Guest post: How communication can empower us through change

8I’m delighted to welcome charity leadership and change specialist, Caroline Doran, as my first guest of 2020. It is a cliche but true that the only thing we can be certain of these days is change. Here, Caroline talks about how getting communication right at times of change can be hugely empowering for all concerned.

Hands up who’s been through a change programme in the last 12 months? At the last event I spoke to over 50% of attendees raised their hands in answer to that question (and to be honest I thought it might have been more).

I followed up by asking how many people had found this a positive experience.

A smattering of hands were raised.

Change can feel hard because it triggers strong reactions based on our sense of security and safety. It engages the same part of our brain that keeps us safe from physical harm. And it’s really hard to operate proactively, positively and in an engaged way when we are in fight, flight or freeze mode.

But does that mean we have to accept that change is hard and grit our teeth through it? Of course not.

It is a truism that change is ever present in our world. In which case, being well resourced to embrace the change around us, to find opportunity in it, is in all of our interests.

So, what can we do?
In my experience as a leader of large change programmes, change management consultant and coach, the answer lies in how we communicate.

I’m not talking about the comms messaging here. Communication is about so much more than the formal, signed-off, carefully scripted, top-down emails. These forms of communication absolutely have a place. They create clarity and can address questions in a consistent way BUT they do not constitute a change communications strategy. Effective communication is two-way, it is based on seeking to understand as well as to be understood.

And this two-way process is essential during a process of change.

5 simple steps
For me these simple (but often elusive) steps make all the difference because they empower everyone involved in the process:

1. Embrace the art of listening: it is a gift to allow someone to feel really heard. And when we listen without agenda, without trying to fix anything or give our opinion, we start to really understand each other. When we feel seen, heard and understood we are more able to trust. And when we have a basis of trust the environment for positive change is set.

2. Make space for reflection: change can trigger extremely strong reactions. Even if we can see from a logical perspective the change is good, our gut reaction can still be deeply uncomfortable. This is why it is important for us to have time to listen to ourselves. What is that gut trying to tell us?

It’s likely to be wanting to keep us safe. And we can take some time to think about whether that’s what we need or whether, actually, there’s an opportunity here to embrace something new that, whilst it might feel scary, could also be a good, even a great thing. But if we try to push on through, ignore that gut reaction and carry on regardless, we are much more likely to hit resistance, anger and fear.

Often change happens at pace, but it is always worth creating space for reflection.

3. Hear multiple perspectives: we all view the world through our own particular lens. We view the challenges through this lens, the opportunities, our current reality, the future vision. If we are open to hearing multiple views, we get closer to the full picture. It makes a 2-D image three dimensional.

A more rounded view means you are likely to make better decisions about what is needed and how to move effectively through the changes. It can help us to understand why certain decisions have been made. And it allows others to feel engaged, involved and valued.

4. Welcome and encourage challenge: feedback and opinions that oppose or question the approach you are taking can often be badged as resistance during a change process. And there is a danger that resistance is seen as negative and to be managed away. But it is worth remembering that this challenge, or resistance, can be a source of rich data because it tells you what people care deeply about.

Being open to challenge sends a clear message that you value the opinions, thoughts and experiences of your colleagues. So whilst it may at times be uncomfortable or difficult to have your carefully thought through ideas challenged, taking a step back and understanding this challenge from the perspective of others is likely to strengthen your programme of change.

5. Hold ourselves and others to account: for each of us, doing what we say we will do and being prepared to be challenged when we don’t is essential for building trust. And trust is key to creating and maintaining a positive environment for change.

What difference would it make in your organisation if change were viewed as something to embrace and learn from rather than to fear? How could these steps to building trust and support through the way we communicate with each other help you?

If this article resonates and you would like to discuss further please do get in touch at

Caroline works with busy leaders in the charity sector who are facing significant change and need help to make it happen. She uses a unique blend of programme management, facilitation and coaching skills to support you to deliver your change programme. Her approach helps you to create clarity, engagement and enhanced leadership capacity with a focus on achieving sustainable implementation.

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