Communicating through transition and change

by External23 Oct 2013

Kevin Dwyer outlines some critical tips to ensure your change initiative gets off the ground.

Change is a time when leaders need to communicate more than any other time. Here are some tips and observations about communication in times of transition.

Communicate relentlessly

Now is not the time to keep quiet. Leaders need to be able to communicate information, thoughts and ideas clearly and frequently in different media. Find many ways to share information; keep processes open and transparent. Communicate early and often.


Good communicators are also good listeners. Allow people to air their gripes and complaints. Paraphrase and summarise, reflect on feelings. Understand not only what is said but also what is left unsaid.

Explain the change

People are often sceptical of change. Share your thinking and the trade-offs you’ve weighed – not just the final decision or strategy. Help them take your journey in thinking.

Make an appeal

Draw on a sense of loyalty, courage, morality or other principles that tie the organisation’s change strategy to what is important to people. Use symbols and emotion in your communication.

Articulate expectations

Clearly explaining why, how and when things need to happen will set expectations and create a healthy level of stress and pressure. It also establishes a mechanism for monitoring and addressing performance.

Be visible

If you communicate well, you won’t be out of sight. Find ways to interact with all of your stakeholder groups.

Confront problems and conflict

Don’t postpone dealing with challenging issues or conflict. By avoiding the difficult people or difficult issues, you can do great harm to yourself, your co-workers and your organisation.

Be honest and open

A commitment to genuine change requires honesty, clarity and truth. An effective leader will ask the hard questions and foster an environment of honesty and candid discussion.

Show respect

Treat people with genuine concern and sincere consideration. Spend time with them, ask them about the things they are interested in and consider their hopes as important as your own.

Make room for doubts

Establish a climate that processes resistance rather than attempting to squash it. Don’t dismiss, write off or label employees too easily or too quickly.

Don’t dismiss the old

Ignoring, demeaning or dismissing people and “the way things used to be” prevents them from moving on. Help people through transition by acknowledging their history and attachments.

Be sincere and authentic

Communicate truthfully and honestly, follow through with what you say and avoid deception. Don’t try to bury or deny your own reactions to ongoing events. People pay close attention to their leaders in such times and are looking for indications that they are real people who are capable of having human emotions like their own.

Trust people to handle the truth

Tell them what you know and own up to what you don’t know. Avoid putting a false positive spin on decisions or events that are inherently negative or difficult to handle.

Demonstrate that you can handle the truth

People may not readily tell you the truth or give you feedback. You have to set the tone and model the behaviour that makes truth telling okay. Stay connected to a broad circle of people and make it clear that you want them to share their concerns and ideas with you.

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