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How do you communicate change?

How you communicate with others can determine your effectiveness as a leader. Research tells us that the ability to adequately communicate is key to getting people to work toward agreed upon goals. For example, when we need people to change their behaviors in order to more effectively meet goals, how we communicate the reasons for the change is crucial to whether or not behavior will change.

The traditional way for leaders to address change in behavior in others is to define a problem, analyze the problem, then recommend solutions. This approach of telling people what the problem is and how we can solve it by changing our behaviors really does not work. People who do not agree with our rational for change will not be convinced to change their behavior just because we lectured a long list of reasons why the behavior is bad for the organization.

In contrast, effective leaders approach change by getting the attention of followers, stimulating the desire for change, then reinforcing the change with reasons. When communication follows this sequence, followers can be inspired with enduring enthusiasm for a cause that will create action and implementation of the change in behavior desired.

Getting the audience’s attention is the first step in communicating a need for change in behavior. During this step, the leader must try to inspire a sense of urgency. One effective way to get others’ attention is with the use of stories. Stories that depict the problem, predict the future if things don’t change, describe how the leader dealt with an issue related to the current one, and posing a challenging question to the followers that relates to the topic of change.

The second step is to elicit the desire for a different future. It is the leaders’ task to get followers to want to do something different. Because people have a natural “fight or flight” reaction to change, it is important that the leader is able to enable the followers to see possibilities that they have yet to consider. An effective way to get people to want a different future is with the use of positive stories that are simple but powerful.

Finally, reinforcing with reasons is the third step to getting people to change behavior. Before any follower will even listen to the reasons given by a leader, there must be a climate of trust and a relationship built on honest communication. Giving reasons for change to others is only effective when the listener is ready. The most effective way for leaders to give reasons for change is through the use of stories. The most effective stories allow for the listener to understand the what, how, and why change is necessary.

Leaders who use storytelling and narratives skill to lead tend to look and sound different than traditional leads. Instead of relying on facts and figures, leaders who use stories to communicate evoke emotions and feelings from others. In turn, followers tend to understand, accept, and fully participate in change. Effective leaders create an environment that encourages open dialogue, ongoing communication, and great listening skills.

How do you communicate the need for change? Use your leadership skills to more effectively get others to buy in to change.

In order to improve leadership skills, consider the tips that follow:

· Read leadership books

· Attend leadership training

· Research effective story telling technquies

· Learn to listen!

Baggerly-Hinojosa (2010). Are You a 10? USA: Lulu Publishers.

Denning, S. (2007). The secret language of leadership. Jossey-Bass

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