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Improving communication at the intersection of change and transformation

We are standing at the intersection of change and transformation, also known as the new normal.

Change is how we respond to outside circumstances and transformation is how we adjust internally. Today’s new normal requires leaders to combine the ability to adapt to change with the courage to transform internally to effectively navigate the complexities.

For leaders, the new normal includes a hybrid of how we communicated and conducted business before the pandemic, how we communicated and conducted business during a pandemic and how we will survive and thrive after the pandemic becomes distant memory. One element remains constant during good times, neutral times and bad times: the need for effective and deliberate communication. Here are three ways to improve workplace communication in the new normal.

Clarify your intention

It’s the leader’s job to focus the conversation on an intended outcome. When meetings go off on tangents or conversations become hostile or nonexistent, there’s a root of dysfunctional leadership. When conversations go south when you thought you were clear, chances are either you or someone else had hidden intentions or unresolved emotions you were unaware of.  

Setting an intention helps you to stay focused and aware of where the conversation is going. Setting an intention sounds something like this: “My intention for our meeting today is …” or “The purpose of this three-day workshop is …”

When to clarify your intention:

  • At the beginning of a meeting
  • Before a performance conversation
  • At the beginning of facilitating a workshop or training

While clarifying the intention, make sure to state what will be out of bounds, what won’t be addressed and what to do if there’s disagreement, or confusion. Stating your intention is a transformational practice that all leaders must practice in order to stay in charge of the conversation and avoid distraction and disruption.

Build a Plan B

If we’ve learned anything from the pandemic it’s to always have a Plan B. Building a Plan B is not about being negative. It’s about being positive so you can anticipate and adapt to change. Adapting in advance is what Daniel Burris refers to as anticipatory leadership.

Dealing quickly with an unexpected change is called agility. Today’s leaders need to anticipate and be agile. For example, if you have a meeting and a key person has an emergency, what’s Plan B? Is your Plan B to record the meeting and share later, or is there an alternate agenda that could be used just in case? If you’re on your way to a one-on-one meeting and plans get canceled at the last minute, what will you work on to make use of your free block of time?

What happens if at a large virtual group meeting someone causes inappropriate disruption? I just saw it happen, and the facilitator handled the situation with grace instead of defensiveness.  Maybe you’re already good in an emergency but why not go the extra mile to anticipate the inevitable.

When to build a Plan B:

  • For travel
  • Group meetings
  • Conversations that might go south
  • Outside events disrupted by weather
  • Conferences when speakers don’t show up
  • Zoom conferences with technical glitches

In today's time be prepared to be blindsided, caught off guard and misunderstood. Your well-prepared conversation can be hijacked even when in a group setting. Have Plan B ready so that you don't react defensively in anger and instead maintain composure and focus. 

Don't overly rely on digital communications

Digital communications used appropriately can save time, but ineffective digital communications contributes to chaos and unnecessary conflict. Don’t forget that emails can be forwarded, and group threads can turn into time-wasting arguments.

Here’s an easy way to think about digital communications: When the information is factual and neutral, digital communications such as email and text can save time.

When not to use digital communications:

  • Performance reviews
  • Defending an accusation
  • Sharing bad news
  • Reporting a co-worker
  • Disciplinary actions
  • Personal issues

The rule of thumb is that if there is a misunderstanding or high emotion, use electronic communications as an invitation to meet in person or on Zoom, rather than discuss the issue via email or text.

Conclusion

Change is happening at rapid and unpredictable speed. Today’s leader must anticipate change and transform themselves to respond to today’s challenges.

 

Marlene Chism is a consultant, international speaker and the author of "Stop Workplace Drama" (Wiley 2011), "No-Drama Leadership" (Bibliomotion 2015) and the forthcoming book From Conflict to Courage (Berrett-Khehler 2022). She is a recognized expert on the LinkedIn Global Learning platform. Connect with Chism via LinkedIn or at MarleneChism.com

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