Uncertainty Requires Communication

Uncertainty Requires CommunicationIn times of uncertainty and change every communication by managers is under the microscope. Misinterpretation of messages is rife, fuelled by the different experiences of each person receiving the message. Frequently managers, in an attempt to limit the speculation, limit their communications to the bare essentials or stop them all together only wishing to communicate fact.

Naturally in times of uncertainty and change people are fearful. Fear makes people protect their interests. Therefore people receive communications and disseminate them with a protectionist attitude. This includes scepticism and ‘worst case scenario’ style thinking. It is no wonder that some managers feel that ‘the less said the better’. But nothing could be farther from the truth.

How can we communicate to reduce the negative effects of team unrest when there is actually little news to share?

The important first step is to clearly identify the impact/outcome of the message you will send. In understanding the impact of your message fully you will reduce the likelihood of misinterpretation and negative actions. Think of this in terms of what recipients of the message need to feel, think, know and do.

For example, my business is about to restructure and there will be a change of management, some redundancies and some transfers to different job roles. This has been announced but whilst planning is taking place there have been no concrete decisions as yet. My team is getting worried, and my best employees are looking for other jobs. If people leave early this will make our business unit very difficult to manage. I need to communicate a message that will keep them calm.

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None of the above goes beyond fact (you would of course need to check the standard redundancy package with the appropriate person first). It confines itself to concerns about redundancy. A separate communication would be used to address job transfers as necessary.

The next step is to use the content of feel, think, know, and do to phrase a message that will create the desired impact. This requires careful crafting and several drafts usually!

Then choose the best communication method(s) for this message., Whilst one way communication methods can save time in the ‘sending’ of the message, they do not give you an opportunity to guide people’s responses, so may not be time effective in the long run. Team meetings, where you can provide two way communications and answer questions would be better in this situation, reinforced in one way communication.

And last of all keep communicating. Be visible and available – stop for the informal chats and develop some presentations. Phone the more remote members of the team. Importantly, create a regular weekly update on the change causing the uncertainty. Even if there is no news of the change plans to report tell people that. Fill in the content with some good news stories about the job at hand to help keep people focussed on the present.

 

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