Communication in times of change

There are always three speeches, for every one you actually gave. The one you practiced, the one you gave, and the one you wish you gave. – Dale Carnegie

Communication is always critical, but especially so during times of change and transformation.  Dale Carnegie’s adage about speeches actually works with all forms of communications, only with a twist, which we will get to shortly.

Having been through many transformations over the years, people tend to react differently.  In the early days, often this is not well.  Employees, customers, partners … everyone … are anxious and stressed about how the change will impact them and their future.  Such reaction is understandable and it leads to two interesting phenomena.

The first is an innately human response which is to assume the absolute worse until proven wrong.  This can been seen in in many cases throughout life.  Not getting admitted to the University of your Choice equates to never going to college or perhaps not getting the job you want after graduation.  An announced shift in a company’s business plans translates into “I’m going to get laid off”.  Now there is nothing wrong for preparing for the worst while hoping for the best, but allowing the negativity to control your actions almost always leads to a poor outcome.

We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak. – Epictetus

The second phenomena is one of speaking before thinking.  It is a practice that is never a good idea.  This often leads to emails being sent or comments being made that either should not have been and often the individual ultimately regrets sending, or cause annoyance on the part of the change leaders, which it should not.

I coach my clients to listen twice as much as they speak because the more you listen the more you learn and it is the insights from those leanings that will allow better decision making.  This is true both for individuals as well as corporations and organizations.

As leaders of change, or even as individuals experiencing change, what can we do to better manage these two phenomena?  The simply answer is listen more with the intent to understand, not to respond.  This does not mean you must agree with everything, but at least understand the positioning and situation before responding.  When you do respond, do so in a thoughtful manner.  Herein lies the “twist” to Dale Carnegie’s speech quote above.  There are three responses:

  1. The one you want to write or say
  2. The one you should write or say
  3. The one you do write or say

Obviously, the closer items two and three are the better off you will be and the more likely you are to get a positive and clear response.

To address the first phenomena, the key is to not let your mind run away. A good way to do this is practicing something I’ve mentioned before which is centering – similar to being mindful in modern parlance.  This allows you to say positive and optimistic which has been proven to improve one’s resilience or how one deals with adversity.  Here is a refresher on centering and its application to leading change.

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