Communicating for a change

Sales, Marketing & Customer Service Courses

The word ‘communication’ has a mysterious quality in the training room – you can use it to answer almost any question and you’ll nearly always be right!  The problem with that of course, is that it’s just so vague, bordering on worthless because, where comms are concerned we have to get specific.  

So here’s a few specifics about communicating for a change.  Any change, any situation where you want the other party to shift their position or behaviour.  This is so useful in change management, influencing, in presentation skills and in almost any situation where you want people to change as a result of your communication.

They need to get you before they get the issue. 

If you want people to get your message, remember that they need to get you first.  This is a simple rule of psychology, often referred to as ‘pacing and leading’.  People will be more willing to be lead by us if we have ‘paced’ with them first.  I like to use the analogy of those 1980’s style trains.  Some of us oldies can remember running alongside the train, opening the door and jumping aboard just as it started to pull out of the station.  The platform staff would be blowing their whistle at us, but we all did it from time to time!  The point is, you couldn’t just get on the train, you had to get up to speed with it (they were a lot slower then and I was a lot younger and faster 😉 ) or you would simply smash into the side of the carriage.  Pacing is similar, we have to get up to speed with other people before they will accept our lead.  We have to build rapport and connection at a human level.  Where communicating change is concerned, I can tell you a specific way to do this… 

Talk first about your connection with the topic you’re communicating.  Give an example, personalise it, show how and why you connect to the subject which is about to follow.  What’s the impact or benefit to you personally.  Show how you are also implicated in the change.  

It might sound something like this: “I don’t know about you, but I find it really frustrating that I need to enter the customers details twice, both on the CRM databases and the accounting software record”. 

Once they’ve got you, they need to get the issue. 

The second thing you’ve got to communicate, is how the topic connects with them.  I like to outline a number of examples of how they personally connect with it.  This is especially the case when presenting to a group, I may not know exactly how each person relates to the topic, so I have to cast my net wide and give as many examples as I can to try and capture everyone in the audience.  In other situations (where I have a better understanding of the listeners situation) I can be more specific.  Either way I would spell out how the topic connects with them by posing a rhetorical question. 

So it might go something like this: “Maybe for you it’s the same as me, but perhaps your frustration is due to how slow the current CRM database is, the fact you have to wait for it to approve after each submission? Or maybe you find the lack of ability to cut and paste a real pain?”

Now shine a light on the issue. 

Now you are ready to position the key detail of the issue, change or topic.  Don’t over do it, remember that most people will ‘zone out’ of a communication if it’s longer than a couple of minutes.  You just need to shine enough light on the topic to illuminate it.  Give the details that matter, you might use a little repetition as well to help people hear, but then cut it off – don’t start to waffle.  

So it might go something like this: “Well I’m really pleased to announce that we are about to introduce a brand new software package for the business.  It’s called… etc.”

Next resolve the earlier tension. 

The next phase of the communication or presentation needs to outline the engagement required to make the change.  We are seeking to apply the issue to the listeners personally, so they know exactly what is expected of them from this point forward.  We should spell out the activity and timelines required to bring about the change.  

So it might go something like this: “To implement this we require all of you to undertake a full database cleansing activity for each of your areas.  This must be completed by June and include the following areas…” 

Finally inspire the action you need from each of them. 

The last part of communicating for a change is to cast a vision of the new future.  They need to see how the proposed change plays into their personal struggles issues or opportunities as highlighted earlier in what you had to say.  So take the time at this point to make those connections overt.  

So it might go something like this: “So once we go live this will mean, no more double entry on the two systems, no more waiting around for the system it will be instantaneous and you’ll all be able to cut and paste into any entry feed you like.”

So there you have it, a way of communicating for a change.  Follow these five content steps for any situation where you need people to come onboard with the change, whether that’s written or verbal comms, an email or a presentation.  Don’t leave engagement to chance, work at creating that buy-in from the start by adopting this easy to follow structure. 

Bob Bannister

Ships Captain at iManage Performance Ltd.