Communicating Disruptive Change

A proper communication is undoubtedly a part of change management that has to be planned and conducted in the most professional way possible. As mentioned in the post about psychological and cultural aspects, a lot of forces impacting the success of a change are driven by trust, beliefs, feelings, moods, culture and other hard-to-measure soft-skills. Leaders could possibly be a guide for different emotional phases by using proper interpersonal or corporate communication.

Hartley and Bruckmann describe in their book “Business Communication” principles and guidelines on corporate communication in various business situations including a business change. Although they say that “there is no best way which will work all the time […], effective communication depends on selecting the best strategy to achieve some communication purpose”[1]. They list up seven communication principles which can help to improve the change success. In this chapter, these communication principles will be listed and elaborated further.


Principle 1: “You can improve your chances of ‘success’ in communication if you have clear purposes and select appropriate strategies.” [2]

This first principle says that the communication strategy has to be aligned to the purpose of the change. The communications strategies can be used to explain if the recipient wishes to understand some aspects of the change. They can be used to command, if the change manager wishes to reach his goal in an effective way using orders.[3] The change manager has to think about the purpose of the communication, the communicators, the recipients and the message itself which first of all have to match the purpose and the recipients.


Principle 2: “Communication always means more than ‘the message’”[4]

Besides the message, the audience will also take notice of the context of the message. This means that messages can be interpreted in various ways and sometimes are ambiguous especially if the speaker tries to be over-simple. Or if messages contain double meanings, then they leave it up to the receiver to interpret the message. In order to circumvent these issues, messages should be not too simple and not contain too much equivocal words.[5]


Principle 3: “Communication is always based in a specific social and cultural context”[6]

The existing patterns of behavior have to be taken care of when planning the corporate communication. If not, it could happen that a particular social context could provide something like a counter-movement, and thus maybe dominate the change initiative.[7] This means in other words that the communication strategy has so be aligned with the corporate culture. If not, any communications might be received as being artificial and foreign. They leave the impression to not coming from the organization’s leadership team.


Principle 4: “Communication and action must match” [8]

Communication is conducted using the spoken word (verbal communication) and additionally by using their gestures, behavior and appearance (non-verbal communication). It is a fact that you “cannot not communicate”[9]. Every action or behavior a person commits, means some sort of communication. If for example a person does not want to communicate to specific people, he or she could just be absent. But the lack of any contact when a person is supposed to attend a meeting nonverbally communicates something negative.[10] Non-verbal communication is highly ambiguous and hard or even impossible to interpret. Even if wealth of books proclaim different approaches on strategies to interpret non-verbal communication it’s just “naive to think we can precisely decode something as complex and ambiguous as nonverbal communication.” [11]


Principle 5: “Communication can always be improved” [12]

The organization needs to setup and establish a continual communication improvement process. There is always a way to improve interpersonal or corporate communication. The leadership team needs to collect and ask for feedback and analyze this feedback.


Principle 6: “Communication is a fundamental management responsibility” [13]

The leadership team does not have the choice whether to communicate or not. Due to the fact that you “cannot not communicate”, there is no option to get around this responsibility. Not communicating at all mostly leaves the impression of a lack of interest and leadership.


Principle 7: “New media can enhance communication” [14]

In order to build up a communication plan, besides the traditional communication channels, also the different new media should be taken into consideration. Next to video and audio messages, also the so-called “social media” should be included in the corporate communication process.[15] The term “social media tools” describes websites and tools that rely on people, who are using them in an interactive manner. The content is not being provided by a super user, but by the normal users themselves. Everybody using a social media tool is part of the creation process. Safko (2009) defines three basic rules concerning “social media”:

  1. Social media is all about enabling conversations.
  2. You cannot control conversations, but you can influence them.
  3. Influence is the bedrock upon which all economically viable relationships are built.[16]

[1] Hartley, P.; Bruckmann, C. (2002), p.349

[2] Hartley, P.; Bruckmann, C. (2002), p.349

[3] Cp. De Silva, F.; et. Al. (2008), p.87

[4] Hartley, P.; Bruckmann, C. (2002), p.350

[5] Cp. Cupach, W.R; Spitzberg, B.H. (1994), p.107

[6] Hartley, P.; Bruckmann, C. (2002), p.350

[7] Cp. Marx, K. (2004), p.39

[8] Hartley, P.; Bruckmann, C. (2002), p.351

[9] Watzlawick, P.; Beavin-Bavelas, J.; Jackson, D. (1967), p.51

[10] Tubbs, S.L.; et. Al. (1978), p.2

[11] Wood, J.T. (2009), p.139

[12] Hartley, P.; Bruckmann, C. (2002), p.352

[13] Hartley, P.; Bruckmann, C. (2002), p.352

[14] Hartley, P.; Bruckmann, C. (2002), p.353

[15] Shockley-Zalabak, P.S.; el. Al. (2010), p.214

[16] Safko, L.; (2009), p.52

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *