“The people who get what we are trying to do are telling me they understand the point of the change programme but they haven’t got their head around what it means yet, what they have to do differently.”
This was the view of the person driving the change programme. He was talking about the ones most supportive of change, the ones doing their best to adapt and evolve. They knew and signed up to the goals but they hadn’t made the shift to the new way of thinking in their head. The result was no change in behaviour. They were still doing the same old things in the same old way.
I knew exactly what he was saying but for me, he had missed a crucial point. The problem is not that people’s thinking hasn’t shifted in response to the change process. If they understand and are convinced by the rationale for the new approach they have, almost by definition, made the mental shift. The challenge is something quite different.
It is relatively easy for us to change our thinking. And, of course, if we want to get something done we have to do exactly that. We have to convince people of our argument, persuade them to see things the way we do. But that does not necessarily make any tangible difference. Agreeing with the strategic approach doesn’t mean we will behave differently.
It’s the shift at our emotional core that counts. We may not understand it, we may not be able to articulate it, but if we don’t ‘feel it’ we probably won’t do it and we certainly won’t do it with the passion and determination necessary to make it a success.
With the emotional commitment of your team almost anything is possible!
The challenge, therefore, is how to make sure the people in your business take the emotional leap.
It’s not easy and it’s certainly not quick but there are some basics you need to get right to begin the process of securing emotional engagement.
People need to feel involved. No one likes having things done to them, so seek feedback and listen carefully. A superficial paper exercise of a consultation is not only unlikely to be particularly effective, it could be actively destructive, undermining trust. But if people feel they have been heard, their contribution thoughtfully considered, and they get good feedback on what’s happening next and why, then emotional engagement is much more likely to follow.
This dialogue is also an incredibly important opportunity to understand the barriers to action. The problem here is people might not understand the blocks themselves, but unless you can get to the bottom of them nothing is going to change. If you’re going to find this out listen carefully to every piece of communication, overt and covert, verbal and non-verbal. And a valuable rule of thumb is where there is a conflict between the verbal and non-verbal, it’s the non-verbal that is almost always the accurate message.
Drawing on my years as a communication consultant and work as a counsellor I can help you hear and respond to the messages that count.
The essential point is what you see is what is in the picture. There is no distinction here between facts and alternative facts, between reality and a post-reality world. If this pictures conjures up particular emotions and feelings for you, then those are the emotions this picture projects.
It doesn’t matter how others experience this image, the way you experience it is real. It is how it is to you. Every individual’s experience is unique, a very personal composite of her own innate personality, her environment and the interaction between the two.
So why am I rabbiting on about this?
From the psychotherapeutic perspective, if someone in your team has a view about something that seems weird, irrational or just unreasonable that is causing problems, describing it as such is not going to get you anywhere. If that is their perception, then that is their reality and if it’s a problem in the business environment you need to be open and flexible enough to see things from their perspective.
From the communications perspective, it matters because whatever you think about your business, what counts is what your customers think. If you’ve got your business strategy right, you know exactly what your business is about; you know what it stands for. Your marketing collateral will embody and bring to life everything about your business that you believe is special and the focus will be on the benefits of buying from you.
But what if this doesn’t resonate with your customers, clients or consumers? What if you’re talking about benefits that don’t matter to them? Or even worse, what if what you say seems to bear no connection to their experience of your business. You’re saying working with you is fun but their experience is of a sluggish and tired business. This is an extreme. It is more likely is that you will say you are innovative and creative while their experience of you is as generally straightforward with occasional good ideas.
It’s incredibly easy to think we are projecting the impression we want, but the problem is often that another’s experience of us is something quite different. It may be enmeshed with their own life experiences, but if we don’t take the time to find out, our messages are going to miss their mark.
According to Beisser’s Paradoxical Theory of Change, personal development is only possible when we understand exactly what and where we are. The same is true of all organisations. You can only move in the direction you want if you know where you are today. And that means taking the time to find out where your targets are at and how they view you. There is only one way to find this out. You have to ask, and perhaps more importantly, ask with a very open mind. Otherwise you will hear what you want instead of what you’re being told.
I have developed a relational perception audit that will give you the information you need. Give me a call if you want to find out more.
There you are. Sitting in a meeting with your team and suddenly one of them seems really angry about what you think is a pretty minor issue. They’ve sort of got a point; in an ideal world you would have responded by now but you’ve had good reasons for the delay. It’s not a priority and they know that. Your diary has been stuffed with important and urgent things, all of which they know about and some of which they put there! Giving you a hard time, in front of the whole team stinks! Particularly since it’s completely out of the blue!!
Or perhaps you asked for an update on a project or be part or discussion about an aspect of a campaign because you had ideas you wanted to table. But in response, your colleague’s burst out saying it was completely unreasonable!
What just happened???
Why did they suddenly get so het up over such a relatively minor issue? Why are they so angry at the suggestion they provide regular updates?
There are almost certainly plenty of reasons why they need a response now, why the updates are a pain or difficult to provide, all of which will vary from person to person and some of which are totally valid. But why were they so explosive? Why did it feel like they were going into battle rather than reasonably expressing their views or needs?
Again, each person is different and it’s dangerous to generalise but repression will probably have a role to play, and this is where your organisational culture can have an impact.
Everyone has views and needs and some of us are better at articulating them than others. As anyone who knows me will confirm, expressing my views is not a problem for me but, and this might surprise some, stating my needs is a completely different story. The result is I tend to shut them down and put them to one side. I take them out of the equation. I’m not alone in this; most people do it, to a greater or lesser degree. And of course, if we’re going to live and work with others we must comprise; some accommodation is necessary.
But significant, repeated repression often leads to an explosion of some kind. You can’t keep it contained all the time. What’s confusing for everyone around the individual, and especially you if you’re their boss, is the explosion might bear no relation to the feelings they’re repressing. It might just be that this is something, unconsciously, they feel they can express or it’s the final drop that’s made them overflow!
The ideal is for them to find a way to identify their needs, express them in an effective way and get them met. That may take a lot of hard work with a therapist so as a business it’s possibly not your problem. The dilemma you might have though, is they’re good at their job yet their explosions are destructive.
Getting your culture right can make a difference and it will certainly help those who can express their needs, albeit with some reticence. Make it open, seek and welcome feedback. Be interested in the people who work for you and always listen and respond to input. That’s not the same as acting on it but knowing you’re being heard makes a huge difference.
I am training as an integrative psychotherapist, working as a counsellor and have over 25 years’ experience in PR and communication, including internal communications.
Give me a call if you want to find out more.
Later today Donald Trump will be inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States.
You might be celebrating. You might be panicking. You might be holding your head in shame. Or you might be doing what my daughter is – relishing the prospect of the extraordinary and random news that’s ahead. To quote her in the car yesterday evening: “I’m excited; who knows what he’s going to do next.”
She’s only 14, so I have to forgive her … but I’m horrified he’s about to be the leader of the free world. As I said to my daughter, it might make for an exciting time in the news but this is a man who laughingly celebrates sexual assault!
My horror and the lessons I’m trying to share with my daughter to one side, what is the point of talking about Donald Trump’s inauguration.
There’s the obvious platform something like the inauguration would give any new leader to set out their strategy. Anyone who takes over a business or organization has a moment in time to say what they stand for; to articulate how they should be measured.
It’s not something to be taken lightly because the opportunity will not arise in quite the same way again. You will only ever have one chance to say something for the first time. Your legacy begins to be written at your first interaction.
But I draw other things from the inauguration, perhaps the most important being, if you’ve got issues or concerns, own them. And if you want to give them voice, be prepared to get involved.
For me Trump is abhorrent. He spreads hate – towards women, towards Mexicans, towards Muslins, towards anyone who’s not in his gang. But there’s not much to be said for sniping on the sidelines. If I hate what he represents then I should be willing to stand up and be counted; I should be willing to roll my sleeves up and get involved on behalf of what I believe in.
I’m not American so there’s not much I can do about his election. But that doesn’t mean I can’t step forward and be counted for what I believe in.
In a meeting I was in yesterday a member of the committee expressed his opinions very strongly. More than that he was saying it would be wholly wrong for others to try to curb his ability to voice his opinion by implementing rule changes that might have that effect. A little while later he put up his hand volunteering to get involved in two sub-committees.
This is a really good example of what I mean. It’s something I try to live by. I’m involved in different organisations, ones that relate to my work and ones for which I volunteer. In all of them I try to stick to the same principle. When I think something isn’t working as it should or needs to change, I try not to be passive whiner. I try not to complain about the way things are unless I’m prepared to step forward. And if I think things need to change, I need to role my sleeves up, argue my case and be part of the change process.
So, what to do about Donald Trump and his misogynist views. My options are limited in his immediate environment but what I can do is argue the case for equality in every environment I work in and take steps to correct imbalances.
If I’m part of an organisation, any organisation I ask myself why and do my best to get involved and if I’m not prepared to back up my opinions with action, I try to be circumspect with my opinions.
I’m not the world’s greatest cook. If I’m honest, I’m okay but no-one is going to get over excited about what I put on the table. Just ask my family if you think I’m being a little too self-deprecating.
I used to think steak was an incredibly easy meal; it’s one my daughter adores. Just grill it for a few minutes on either side, then serve. But it was always far too chewy to be appealing.
Then my brother-in-law told me about the need to rest the meat. The difference was extraordinary. A tough steak no-one in their right mind would want to ‘plough’ through was transformed into a moist melt-in-your mouth experience.
A little patience, giving it time to settle and rest, made all the difference. It’s a lesson I learnt the hard way, scraping the left overs into the bin once too often.
This might feel a little tangential, but the same is true with your corporate messages.
I’ve sat in plenty of meetings and off site workshops when, in the heat and excitement of the moment, we’ve exclaimed we’ve cracked it and articulated something radical and profound. Then later, when the adrenalin dissipates and we’ve looked again at what we’ve done, we think, eh?! What were we thinking!!
Taking the time to reflect, to let something settle is incredibly important. And when it comes to your key messages it’s particularly crucial.
I’ve run plenty of message workshops in which people get excited by what goes on the flip chart but when it comes to the output, collated and circulated the following week, they ‘feel’ it doesn’t quite hit the spot.
Following one of the most recent workshops I ran the client came away feeling the core messages about their own organization, the messages they had been working with for a couple of years, were weak. Reflected back through the eyes of an independent consultant, the messages suddenly felt flimsy, as if there was nothing of any substance. They felt they didn’t convey the depth and real substance of their offer. They felt they hadn’t really conveyed the elements that made then different, better than their competition.
Getting the messages right means articulating the way in which you meet your targets’ needs and desires. If you’re going to devise a matrix that will stand the test of time and provide you with a reference point for all your communication materials then you have to sit with your initial thoughts.
Just as you have to let your steak rest, you have to let the messages settle. After a few days of reflection, you’ll know if the messages really capture the way in which you deliver for your customers and clients; and if they don’t quite fit the bill you’ll have the perspective you need to evolve what they say and get them right for the long term.