Making any meaningful change requires people to think, feel, and/or do something differently. Another way of saying this is getting people to move. Getting them to move from where they are currently to somewhere new.
The challenge is the status quo provides a sense of familiarity, comfort and certainty. Change from that means entering into the unknown, the uncomfortable, and the uncertain which can be scary. Fear is a force that pulls us back to the status quo. Change, getting people to move, requires overcoming the force of fear. Not only in a moment but in an ongoing way since we know the only constant is change.
So how can we reduce the fear created by the unknown, uncomfortable, and uncertain. Reducing fear is about getting people to see themselves in the change. In the absence of the facts, truths are made up to guard against the discomfort of not knowing what is happening. When these truths are created from a fear-filled place, the result is resistance, not only negatively affecting the individual, but also infecting teams and groups slowing progress.
Getting people to see requires intentional and effective communication. Communication that establishes connection, provides clarity, and consistently reinforces the change vision to combat the force of fear with wants to maintain status quo.
Connecting with the intended audience first requires empathy for their situation. How will the change affect them…. personally? Might they be afraid they won’t be able to learn the new skill, be less important, have lower status? Could they be afraid of being not needed? Whether or not the facts support these fears effective communication requires, understanding the perspective of the people you are communicating with. This is the context in which the message will be received and must be considered when a communication plan is developed.
Clearly and simply communicate vision to help people see. Mark Twain is credited with saying “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead”. It is easier to use a lot of words in a presentation or add extra details to an email and feel like it is getting clearer, when in reality short and direct communication is almost always more effective. Especially when people are uneasy brevity and simplicity create clarity.
We’ve all heard the quip “If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times,” and while that might be how leaders feel the truth is until you’ve said it a thousand times you haven’t said it once. Continuously reinforcing the message is critical to maintain momentum.
Consistency creates the opportunity for people to hear the message at the right moment when they are in the right frame of mind to internalize it.
Getting people to move starts with helping them to understand the stated vision and more importantly how they, individually, personally fit into that vision. How effectively we communicate with those we are asking to change determines how effective we will be at getting them to move.