Home > Leadership > How to Communicate Effectively When Managing Change

How to Communicate Effectively When Managing Change


Have you heard of the old saying ‘It’s not what you say but how you say it’? It’s a popular adage that seeks to show that you can deliver the same message yet have it understood and accepted more readily by changing the way you approach it.

In business poor word choice can lead to misunderstandings, mixed messages and, worse still, that the potential customer goes away with completely the wrong idea about what you meant. It is essential to be careful about the words you choose, particularly when communicating major change within the workplace. The impression you create and how you deliver your messages is vital if you want to avoid the common pitfalls that can impact a successful change management initiative.

Managing a major change or transformation is a complex and challenging process to navigate. However, it is inherently reliant on workforce cooperation if it is to be successful. The concept of change may be ingrained in your company ethos, particularly in a tech business where change can be almost constant to keep pace with technological advances. However, you will only succeed with a successful implementation if you continually deliver messages that support people throughout the change program.

Consider training

Change management training is one way to ensure that people within your organisation possess the knowledge required to focus on both the process and the human aspect of change. The ability to engage people on the journey, foster trust and motivate even the most reluctant participants to contribute and buy in to the change initiative can be the difference between success and failure.

Effective dismantling of the barriers to change and the frequent reluctance of the workforce requires change leaders who know how to “sell” change effectively and support the workforce while keeping their eye on the target.  Now, more than ever, a crucial part of successful businesses is keeping up with the fast pace of change to stay competitive – and that requires managing people who are finding change a challenge.

Delivering the message well

As a change manager, you will need to communicate effectively However, you have to do so in a way that allows those listening the time and space to process what you are saying. And then have the opportunity to express their thoughts openly and honestly. They will quickly lose trust if they see you forging ahead with a plan regardless of their opinions. You could be more effective if you empathise and show an understanding of the time it might take to adjust, accept and embrace the change that’s coming.

What should you avoid and how should you engage?

Don’t tell them not to worry or that everything will be OK.

Imagine hearing those words yourself. You are bound to worry, simply because someone felt the need to tell you not to. You are also not going to know for sure what problems you will encounter on the way, which could make that not true.

Do say how you are handling the process, risks, uncertainties etc.

This will help build confidence that you understand there will be challenges along the way, and you have plans in place to work through them. Be clear that you value their contribution now and as the program progresses. It is easier to manage expectations if you haven’t sold the project as a fait accompli. While you are hoping everything will be fine, people will want more answers about how you can be sure at the outset.

Don’t tell them they have no choice but to embrace the change.

Acknowledge they have a choice. Otherwise, you could see any resistance simply becoming stronger. Resentment is contagious and you could risk alienating even your most ardent supporter if they feel or see others backed into a corner. It is hard to accept that you cannot force people to agree. Listening to concerns is a better way to encourage support.

Do say I am eager to work with you and discuss your concerns.

When people can express their concerns, knowing you are prepared to engage, and do what you can to alleviate them, is a good thing. Even when you can’t solve every problem, your effort will be recognised. You may identify easy ways to support them or choose to find an alternative approach for a particular task. Either way, you have the opportunity to head off dissent or obstruction before it festers and grows.

Don’t be too quick to list the positives the change will bring.

“Positive” is often relative and highly individual. People may see what you see positively as a negative. Telling them why they should go along with change because it can only be good for them can invoke the exact opposite reaction to what you intended. For instance, what you see as a helpful measure of automating an operation may be viewed as a threat to their jobs. Or, they may mourn a process they have used over many years. So, what is good for one person may not be perceived the same by all.

Do explain what and why.

Provide a balanced approach to the change. Be prepared to listen to the concerns and address them. You may not solve their problems and as with any change, there could well be losers as well as winners. You need to show you are aware of the reality of the change and its impact. Even with bad news, acknowledging concerns and being as open and realistic as possible will benefit you and the business long-term. 

Don’t be quick to state the need for efficiencies.

People may be quick to feel responsible if it is their area targeted. The need for change and greater efficiency can be interpreted as “job cuts” and immediately create fear, doubt and uncertainty. Even those with no fear for their job will be dragged in to support or sympathise with those who may be affected.

Do clearly state what you are looking to fix, change and achieve.

Be clear about what changes mean, state the inefficiencies that need to be addressed with honest and open communication channels.  Offer and request regular feedback to help alleviate many of the doubts and fears along the way. Maintaining trust and delivering progress will be easier if you foster the feeling of togetherness towards a common end.

Understanding how to cultivate honest, expressive communication with your teams is an asset for those who consider themselves change management experts. It can make all the difference to your ability to lead your team to successful outcomes when managing change.

Published: October 6, 2021

Trending Articles

Stay up to date with
Avatar photo

Michelle Symonds

Michelle Symonds spent many years in the oil industry and investment banking, designing and building software applications and websites, then later managing complex global IT projects. In 2009 she started a consultancy specialising in SEO to use her tech skills in the rapidly growing field of digital marketing, and so Ditto Digital was born. Ditto Digital devises and implements SEO campaigns based on in-depth data analysis and are very pro-active and flexible to adapt to changing requirements or external influences. Their top-level digital marketing services have enabled small companies to successfully compete with major brands in the online space. Find out more at DittoDigital or connect with Michelle on LinkedIn.

Related Articles