1. An accurate picture of reality.
2. A sense of hope based in the proposed new reality.
3. The whole truth about 1 and 2.
Change is really about adults making effective decisions. Decisions to commit, decisions to opt out, decisions to wait a bit, decisions about what might be best for their careers and their families...
None of those is possible without knowing the truth of the situation and why the impending changes make the future hopeful.
We all struggle at times when it comes to delivering difficult news. Organizational changes usually fit into that category.
So it's easy to start rationalizing the truth by rationalizing that people won't be able to deal with it. "If I just schmooze a bit here and leave off a nasty detail there, it will be easier on everyone."
No. What we really mean is, "It will be easier on me."
They Can Tell When Someone is Lying
Psychology Today's Allison Kornet explains: (bold face indicates my emphasis)
While studying how language patterns are associated with improvements in physical health, James W. Pennebaker, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Southern Methodist University, also began to explore whether a person's choice of words was a sign of deception. Examining data gathered from a text analysis program, Pennebaker and SMU colleague Diane Berry, Ph.D., determined that there are certain language patterns that predict when someone is being less than honest. For example, liars tend to use fewer first person words like I or my in both speech and writing. They are also less apt to use emotional words, such as hurt or angry, cognitive words, like understand or realize, and so-called exclusive words, such as but or without, that distinguish between what is and isn't in a category.
And in a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Bella DePaulo, Ph.D. and Deborah A. Kashy, Ph.D., of Texas A&M University, report that frequent liars tend to be manipulative and Machiavellian, not to mention overly concerned with the impression they make on others.
In DePaulo's studies, participants (liars) described conversations in which they lied as less intimate and pleasant than truthful encounters, suggesting that people are not entirely at ease with their deceptions. That may explain why falsehoods are more likely to be told over the telephone, which provides more anonymity than a face-to-face conversation.
Lessons for Change Leaders
1. Even if you're telling the whole truth, your credibility may be diminished if you don't communicate in person. Why? Because the lack of face-to-face intimacy conveys an implicit undercurrent of deception. The listeners may not even realize it, but they know at some level that more truths get told in person than via another medium.
2. Tell people what you think and feel by using "I" and "my" vs. "Acme Widgetworks". People care how you see the reality--in detail--of the situation; and, specifically why you are hopeful about the future.
3. Changes prompt an entire range of emotions in everyone involved. That means you, too. An absence of honest emotional language sends the message that you actually don't care. People don't want a canned business speech. They want you. That means hearing the impact the changes are having and why, again, you are hopeful about the future in light of the current reality.
They Can Handle It
People can handle the truth. What they don't handle well is finding out later that they only heard part of the truth.
If you're tempted to put a little icing on the message, remember that Marie Antoinette thought it was a good idea to "let them eat cake." She didn't end up heads above her constituents.
Image source: www.coolthings.com