Informal face-to-face conversations build shared understanding and experiences of working life, help people to appreciate different perspectives and build trust. However, organisations typically rely more on formal communication approaches when there is large scale organisational change happening. It’s as if they have an unspoken rule of the bigger the change, the bigger and more formal the communication. This can include a wide range of methods such as town hall meetings, roadshows, emails, newsletters, posters and intranet updates.
It seems to me that informal face-to-face communication does not get the focus it deserves especially during organisational change. This can include anything from everyday conversations by the water-cooler, a quick chat over coffee, regular one-to-one meetings or team meetings.
Research from Dr. T J Larkin suggests informal face-to-face conversation are the best approach for dealing with employee resistance to change so it’s little surprise that not including informal communication as a key part of engaging people in change will be detrimental to the change initiative. Taking the time to have genuine and open dialogue helps people connect and build trust; a necessary step on the journey to overcoming resistance to change.
It also shows that 62% of managers state their informal network is their best source of information and that it is significantly more effective and easier to use than other traditional formal communication approaches. From this research it seems the majority of managers appreciate the value of informal communication and should be reaping the benefits, but in practice may not be making the most of this approach, given the failure rates of projects and change initiatives.
Here are three pointers to help make the most of your informal face-to-face conversations during organisational change.
Think of listening as an active sport and commit to it wholeheartedly. This involves giving your full attention, showing that you are listening through your body language, reflecting back and checking understanding.
Think of listening as an active sport…
As Stephen Covey says ‘seek first to understand, then to be understood’. Taking the time to really listen shows people they are respected and that they matter. Even when organisational change decisions have already been made from the top, give people a chance to have their voices heard and a safe space to ask questions. This provides a sense of fairness about the way they are being treated and the processes followed, which builds trust and helps shift people along the change journey towards commitment and buy-in for change.
Step into the other person’s shoes to consider how they perceive things – what do they see, hear and feel, and what really matters to them. This helps show empathy and frame the conversation from their perspective to make a stronger connection and build rapport.
Communication is about more than just the words. Tone and body language also play a big part in effective communication and building rapport. So be mindful of aligning words and actions to convey the right message. For example, there is no point in telling someone you are excited about the changes ahead when your body language is saying anything but.
Communication is about more than just words
Rena Cooke, a Professor from Oklahoma University, says authentic communication starts with a grounded, centred body and deep central breath. You need to be relaxed yourself in order to help the other person feel comfortable. Selecting a neutral space can also help people feel more relaxed and open to having a meaningful conversation.
People have incredibly fine-tuned antennae that notice when others are not being congruent. No matter how well you do with using the right words and body language none of the above will be effective if you are not being genuine about listening to feedback and having difficult conversations.
Before going ahead with any communication check your intention behind it. For example, are you doing this to genuinely hear people’s opinions and concerns or is it to defend the decisions made? Don’t let people believe they have a say in making decisions if they do not. So clearly state what is negotiable and what is not and share as much information as you can, given any legal constraints of course.
Don’t let people believe they have a say in making decisions if they do not
Why not re-assess your own change communication approach to ensure you are relating to others in the most effective way possible and consider whether informal ways of communicating with others might get the job done better than more traditional, formal means.
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