Most people's response when they hear the word “change” is that of fear and concern. However, as leaders we have the opportunity to approach how we manage change and communicate in ways that get us better results.
It could be organizational restructuring, an acquisition or maybe a new boss; regardless, when our brain hears change, it immediately thinks uncertainty. Cognitive scientists have found one of the factors at work is “processing fluency.” Simply said, the harder it is for our brain to understand something, the more fear and the more negatively we perceive the event. The flipside—and our opportunity—is that the easier something is to understand, the more positive our outlook. Most of this understanding doesn't come from what is said, but rather how it is said.
In the 1970s, Dr. Taibi Kahler identified six personalities that each have unique psychological needs and communication channels. He went on to create the Process Communication Model, one of the most effective models I've found for understanding self, others and improving communication. Dr. Kahler went on to work with NASA, assisting them in shuttle team selection, while the model has been used by hundreds of global companies to improve communication.
How can we account for this when dealing with change? Understand there are six personality energies inside each of us, but one of them is our strongest “base” personality. That means different people will have different “bases” that affect what information we filter and how we tend to naturally communicate with others. The six personality energies will have different needs to make processing change simpler:
- The Thinker wants to understand the facts and timelines.
- The Harmonizer is looking to understand how people and relationships will be affected.
- The Persister would like to know that the change is going to add value and that people are committed.
- The Promoter seeks to know what action to take and if the change will help them win.
- The Rebel wants to hear how change affects their freedom and creativity in a light, fun message.
- The Imaginer will picture in their mind the benefit of the change and what it will mean for them.
Putting this understanding to work begins with being aware of what is most important for you personally to understand. If you need to process the facts and timeline involved in the change, that is how you will probably explain change to others—even if that isn’t what they are looking to understand. And if they have a hard time understanding, they are likely to have a more negative reaction.
I recently worked with a family-owned firm whose leader is very fact/time-oriented. His nephew has a lot of Rebel, while their secretary has a lot of Harmonizer energy. The leader needed to make some organizational changes and admitted he would normally just lay out the facts and expect people to act. Instead, he shifted his message to get to the needs of his leadership team by keeping the message light and focusing on how the change will help the people involved. By doing this, he avoided the miscommunication he had experienced in the past—simply by adjusting his how.
Change can be messy, but it doesn’t have to be confusing. As the leader, stay focused on the purpose of the change, acknowledge areas that will need extra effort, and account for the fact that the people hearing the message may need to understand different things than you do. The simpler you make it for them to hear, the more likely their brain sees change in a positive light. iBi