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Having tough conversations with your staff

by Leah Mether

A communication expert’s five tips on how to communicate change and keep morale high!

The pace of change and uncertainty is accelerating worldwide. Whether it’s industry transitions, corporate shake-ups, or the aftermath of natural disasters and a global pandemic, it’s a time of big feelings, emotions, and reactions as people grapple with the unknown. “Whether you’re making staff cuts, restructuring or just keeping people at ease, you have a role to play in steering your people through the storm of change, so they make it out the other side”, says communication specialist, Leah Mether (author of Soft is the New Hard: How to Communicate Effectively Under Pressure).

Mether says that leading through change is ultimately about people and to do it well you have to use people skills – more heart, less head. You can do this by using five key elements:

  1. Create Clarity

Get clear on how you want to navigate the change, clarify your key messages, and then provide that clarity to your team, explaining why the change is needed, why they should care, and why it’s beneficial for them to get on board. Even if you don’t have all the answers or know the detail about what the change is or how it affects your people, you can still create a level of clarity by being proactive and transparent in your communication.

  1. Connect with Curiosity

Connect with your people, show them you care, and get curious about their feelings, concerns and responses to the change. This empathetic approach builds trust and ensures your people feel seen, heard and understood. The better you understand someone the more effectively you can lead them. You’ll be far less likely to be shocked by reactions, resignations and issues you never knew existed, until they blow up.

  1. Challenge with Candour

Navigating change is hard but you and your people have a choice about how you respond. Reminding yourself and your team of this choice requires you to challenge mindsets, focus and behaviour in a candid and frank way. Empathise with where your people are at, but you still have a responsibility to hold your people accountable for their performance. Don’t shy away from tough conversations during change but do remember to stay hard on the issue, soft on the person.

  1. Coach with Compassion

Support and encourage your people to find their own answers to the challenges they face. Do this by making the time to meet one-on-one with your staff and having coaching conversations. It’s not about rescuing, problem-solving, pity, or providing quick-fix answers. It’s about asking questions, prompting reflection, and using future-focused inquiry to help them. Coaching conversations empower your people to take personal responsibility for finding their own solutions and compassion ensures they feel cared for and supported.

  1. Commit with Consistency

Leading through change is not one conversation, one meeting or message. It’s a process that requires commitment and consistency, repetition and reinforcement. Many changes fail because they are over-managed and under-communicated. You need to be consistent in your communication, behaviour and actions if you want to build trust, so your people follow you through the uncertainty.

Mether says that “no matter what workplace change you are working through, following the above will help shift your team towards acceptance, allowing you to steer through the storm to calmer waters with your ship and your crew intact.”

About the Author

Leah Mether is a communication specialist obsessed with making the people part of leadership and work life easier through the development of “soft skills”. Renowned for engaging style as a trainer, speaker and facilitator, Leah helps leaders and teams shift from knowing to doing, and radically improve their effectiveness.

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