One of the biggest problems I hear from clients is about negative people dominating the conversations at work, especially during change. These people lead otherwise good employees into poor habits and generally sabotage the good intentions behind that change or that new project.  If you suffer from that particular problem within your team, rest easy because you can help yourself and your team to develop communication techniques that work effectively to help to get everyone’s voice heard in a constructive and winning way.

Negativity at work can be draining. In my article “How To Transform Habitual Negativity At Work”, I discuss tactics to replace negativity with positivity. This sets out communication techniques all leaders and managers can use to help their people get their voices heard when undergoing unwelcome change.

Negativity at work has far-reaching effects

A study carried out by Manchester Business School which examined two NHS trusts, demonstrated negativity had a far-reaching effect.  The study was not confined to workplace bullying and stress which are often the focus of attention when dealing with such matters in the workplace. The study covered milder negativity and conflict at work.  The results showed not only were people involved in the dynamics of negativity affected, but the effect on witnesses and bystanders was equally negatively chronic.   The results were “feelings of isolation, insecurity, fear, worthlessness and lack of value. People felt very undermined, powerless and vulnerable”. The art of getting your voice heard using helpful communication techniques is not in evidence here.

Negativity arises for several reasons

Of course, not all negativity is unhelpful!  Just because someone is pointing out the pitfalls of an unwelcome change, doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be listened to.  Getting your voice heard amid unwelcome change can seem an impossible task. People resort to all sorts of tactics to register their views, and sometimes these tactics end up being rather less than constructive.

Strong mature leaders and managers can take the most negatively phrased pieces of feedback or criticism and turn it into a positive, although some leaders and managers find this more difficult.

For people encountering a situation where an unwelcome change or new project/situation is happening, it’s important to understand that as humans we are often pre-programmed into a dance which can if we are not careful, lead us into a slippery slope of feeling angry, frustrated and resentful.   What follows are some of the dynamics we can unwittingly find ourselves in.

The downward dynamics involved in unconstructive feedback

Here are some of the components of the downward dynamics I see again and again when an unwelcome change occurs or is proposed.

  • People don’t get the full story – they have many questions and no forum to ask, and discontent sets in.
  • The reasons for the change aren’t always clear.  People make their minds up the change is not for the greater good, suspicion sets in.
  • The dynamics of change aren’t understood. Nearly everyone will experience a negative impact within change, although people who understand the stages of change may cope with change better because they realise what they are experiencing is natural and part of a process.
  • Updates aren’t given in a timely way. Speculation fuels the rumour mill, speculation then becomes backdoor fact.
  • Initial feedback is rejected – People feel powerless and so resort to the Parent/Child dynamic of relating, them and us dynamic prevails
  • People feel they won’t be listened to and therefore not valued. It becomes more difficult to be assertive and so can resort to passive, passive-aggressive or aggressive behaviour. Typical behaviour found when meetings are held: Feedback is invited, everyone is silent, and then everyone has a view outside of the meeting.

Learning new ways of giving and receiving feedback

Change is inevitable and isn’t going to go away.  Many teams state they want a break from change and they just want the status quo.  However, that’s unlikely to happen.  In my interview with Harvard Business School Professor John Kotter who is widely regarded as the world’s foremost authority on leadership and change; he told me “Managing change is not the problem…. Managing the rate of change is the real challenge”

What we need to do is to unpick the way we traditionally react and respond to change, there is a better way.  All it takes is some ownership, self-reflection and a willingness to use our good communication techniques which promote growth and not conflict.

Communication techniques for leaders and managers of change

Not all change is bad, big or life-changing but whatever the change, leaders and managers can take some fundamental steps to help people involved in the change feel involved and valued. They can also join the principle of getting your voice heard.

1. Consult

Where possible consult on the change when developing options. This isn’t always possible if the change is responding to a legal, time-bound or deal-breaker issue.  However, the majority of changes can be anticipated and discussed.

2. Be clear

Be abundantly clear on the real drivers for change and why the change must occur.

3. Ongoing engagement

Consult on the change throughout the stages of change, not just at the beginning.

4. Raise awareness

Help people through the change curve by helping them understand the stages of change, and putting support in for each stage.  Some changes can be significantly bad news for people, my article Organisational Change, Making the Best of Bad News sets out some clear steps to consider.

Communication techniques for people affected by a change

If you are affected by an unwelcome change, you must get your voice heard. There are some key ways you can achieve this in a way which gets results for you.  Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t always possible to stem the tide of change. Nor arrange the details of the change in the way you would like. You will feel much better if you use some of the communication techniques outlined here. Adopting some simple techniques can mean you know you’ve done the best you can in an empowering way.

1. Own your feelings

You might feel many different emotions depending on the level of change and the way it impacts you.  Owning your feelings means you don’t blame “management” or the person initiating the change when expressing what you feel.   Yes, they may not have communicated/considered/managed the change well. But here is an opportunity to have your say in an empowered way.  “I feel really afraid I might lose my job” Is more honest and obviates the need for attacking another.

This is better than saying.  You’ve made me feel scared and I resent you for that”.   Deal with your fears, by facing up to and answering your “What ifs”.  “What if I lose my job?”  “What if this means I work differently?”  Fearfulness can trigger our vivid imagination about the worst scenario and rarely is the reality as bad as our fears would have us believe. Overcoming fear is an essential step in getting your voice heard.

2. Talk Adult/Adult

Eric Berne is the creator of the theory of transactional analysis.  He developed the Parent-Adult-Child model, which is a dynamic prevalent in our human interactions.  Quite often we can unconsciously adopt these roles at work.   The person in authority becomes either the nurturing or critical parent, and the one subjected to authority can become the child.  At work, the best dynamic is when we are adult/adults and feel safe to share equal personal power.

3. Give the benefit of the doubt

If you haven’t enough information, or you need to understand better the reasons for the change or action, by giving people involved in the change the benefit of the doubt you don’t jump to assumptions.  This isn’t about the other person, it is to help you navigate the change in a way which doesn’t simply drive you mad. It also helps you maintain an open and kind attitude when finding out the information you need.  Respect that other people will have a different perspective on whatever is happening.  Not everyone agrees

4. Be Assertive

 Think about what you want out of your request/communication.  Consider how you might respond if you can’t initially get what you want.  Get your timing right.  Make sure you are going to be able to have the ear of the person you are asking and use the strategies in points 1, 2 and 3 to get your point across.   Resist the temptation to want to verbally hit out, accuse or attack.  Don’t keep quiet, while silently harbouring strong feelings or resentment.  Don’t vent your frustrations on others in the team, while the leader might be blissfully unaware of how strong you feel. Do practice getting your voice heard.

5. Refuse to be part of the rumour mill

We are human. Everyone has a different perspective, we all have our hopes, fears and opinions.  Mostly though we are all great at speculation.  The problem is at work if you speculate, then it’s like Chinese whispers and suddenly the musings of ourselves and colleagues are taken as fact.   If you don’t have enough space or time to be able to discuss changes with relevant people to get the answers you want and need, then using all of the strategies above, go state your case.

6. Take responsibility for your playing your part

This is where the saying “If you aren’t part of the solution, you are part of the problem” comes in.  Quite simply, don’t get sucked into the temptation of blaming others for what is happening.  Go and say what you want to happen, and keep an open mind.  If you still don’t get what you want, then wait for another opportunity to get your point across in a different way.

7. Practice acceptance

Sometimes life just doesn’t happen the way we want it.  Much of life’s suffering happens because we are simply resisting what is.  If a situation turns out to be not what we want, or it lives up to our fears, the art of surrendering brings immediate relief.   Once emotion is removed from the equation, then quite often we discover the wherewithal to find a more suitable solution.

So if you want to get your voice heard during difficult change, then practising these seven communication techniques will help.

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I help leaders develop self- mastery, helping them to become confident in their own inner guidance.

I collaborate with leadership experts, managers and HR professionals to help them get their own message and unique services and products to a wide audience.