The influence of your communication on the change process

At the Experiment Nation Conference, I covered change management to get to a culture of experimentation (you can find the slides here). One of the most influential persons to facilitate or completely block the change efforts is you!

With your behavior and beliefs, you can facilitate or completely block organizational change.

In this article, I will cover the influence of your communication.

How you block organizational change

Last year, I wrote about the blocking influence of CRO specialists on organizational change. It explains the following situation:

A CRO specialist is enthusiastic about his work and tries to convince others to work the same way. However, instead of helping and involving others, the specialist tries to ‘force’ his work onto his manager and direct colleagues. Often, this is accompanied by trying to convince others with mere facts. But force and (only) facts are not the way to go.

With this behavior, the specialist strengthens the unwanted behavior of colleagues, which stimulates the specialist’s behavior again. This creates a vicious circle.

If you expect your colleagues to show resistance, you will automatically become more determined and distant. That way, you get the resistance you were afraid of (a self-fulfilling prophecy).

How you facilitate organizational change

You will probably be familiar with the six principles of Cialdini. Two of these principles (Likable and Authority) apply to you as a person facilitating organizational change: Be a likable authority.

As a likable authority you

  • Are passionate but humble
  • Are approachable
  • Show interest in others and align with them
  • Build trust with colleagues
  • Never tell people they are wrong
  • Respect the opinion of your colleagues

And most importantly, you help your colleagues achieve their goals with experimentation instead of accomplishing your own.

Here are a few essential skills to communicate like a likable authority.

Listen

Listening is a key to overcoming resistance and initiating progress. The best way to get people to listen and accept your ideas is to listen to them first.

Listening allows you to create a shared connection between you and your conversation partner. It gives others the chance to share their feelings and concerns. When we feel like our concerns are being heard, it induces a certain level of trust between the other person and us.

To be a good listener, you must control your own emotions first. Emotions like frustration and anger will hinder your ability to reason and develop nuanced strategies.

When listening, try to understand what drives the other person and what concerns them. It will show how you can help them with experimentation or how they could get involved. It is about finding a win-win situation.

Align with their personality

Now that you understand the other person, you need to align.

Everyone has their preferred way of communication and deals with things differently. Therefore, to share your message effectively and build relationships and trust faster, you should adapt your communication style.

One way to do so is by using personality types. The theories have yet to be proven in science, but they function as a great starting point.

These personality types have different names. Insights Discovery and DISC are pretty similar, and you might recognize them from people saying “he is very blue” or “the company culture is typically yellow.”

In their excellent book Growing Happy Clients, D. Tideman and W. van Gasteren display this cheat sheet, which really comes in handy. Daphne was so kind to let me share it here. I use the sheet as a quick reminder whenever I meet with a new (potential) client or stakeholder.

Side note: I highly recommend the book to all digital consultants, managers, and leads.

Alignment happens in all forms of communication. And not just in the words you say, but also in the things you do. Some people would love to get involved, others love seeing the results of your experiments, and yet others only want to see the business impact you are making.

If you’re able to learn how your colleagues or stakeholders communicate best and then adapt your style to match theirs, you build relationships and trust faster.

Be authentic

To build further trust, you have to be authentic.

People don’t trust what they don’t understand, and this creates resistance. Therefore, be open about your feelings, challenges, and experiences.

Give examples of how you understand, have faced difficult situations and worked through them. Authentic people are more likely to draw others in and begin a constructive cycle of openness and sharing, leading to fulfilling relationships and successful change.

By doing so, show empathy and understanding for the other person’s emotions. Tell the other person you understand and acknowledge their position and feelings. Ensure people feel like you respect them and their interests.

Getting to yes

You know how to listen and align, you are authentic, and you show empathy. Next is to get your message across.

Some people will be enthusiastic about experimentation from the start. Others will happily accept your help or get their ideas tested. But for some people, it will be a bit harder to convince them about your ideas.

Do not avoid difficult conversations. We often avoid unpleasant talks because the outcomes are unpredictable, and the stakes are high. However, it is worth the effort if there’s a chance it could improve the experimentation culture and your success.

In these conversations, it should never be your goal to “win,” as if the other person is your opponent. Instead, focus on finding a long-term solution together. Therefore, separate the factual level from the interpersonal level.

Before you search for solutions based on these facts, understand the underlying interest of the other person and yourself. The best solutions arise when people freely share information. People are more likely to fully commit to solutions resulting from an open dialogue where ideas and information are freely shared.

Once you have identified the differences, it’s much easier to come up with solutions. Be open to discussing all kinds of potential solutions, and only accept one that both parties happily agree with.

Next, put the decision into practice by clearly establishing who does what and when.

Be a likable authority

In summary: be a likable authority and adjust your communication accordingly. Listen, align, be authentic, and focus on long-term solutions together.

In theory, a discussion should always lead to better results, but you can never force the other person to act in a certain way. If it is impossible to find a win-win situation, focus your energy and efforts elsewhere in the company-for instance, other directors or stakeholders.

Step-by-step, you will get more people on board, getting you closer and closer to a culture of experimentation.

Resources

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Ruben de Boer

As a CRO consultant and online teacher, Ruben works with organization to set up a CRO program and create a culture of experimentation on a daily basis.