5 Ways to Fill in the Blanks When Communicating about Change

SONY DSCIn my last post, I shared how saying nothing when communicating about change is like taking a Mad Libs approach to leadership. By saying nothing, you’re forcing your team to use assumption, speculation, and gossip to fill in the blanks for what’s going on in your organization. While this approach leads to some hilariously heartbreaking stories, it also leads to frustration and mistrust.

Which is just what you need when you are navigating the waters of a significant change. (Said no leader ever.)

The questions remain: What do you say when you need to say something but feel like you can’t say anything? How do great leaders keep their teams informed and moving in the right direction when everything is still up in the air?

The following are 5 ways to fill in the blanks for your team:

  1. Say “I don’t know about X” or “I’m not sure about Y.” Admit what you know and what you don’t. Don’t make stuff up. Don’t beat around the bush or use complicated jargon to disguise the state of affairs. Say what you mean to say. Then quickly follow up with, “What I do know is A” or “What I am for sure about is B.” Be sure to share in detail what you do know when being honest about what you don’t.
  2. Share the process. Let your team know the step-by-step process you and your leadership team will be using to make decisions about the changes to come. Tell your team what information you are looking for, who is involved in the process, and the overall time frame you are working with. Let them in on the challenges as well as the milestones as you go along so they can see the progress you’re making, too. And let them know when the process hits a bump or two: you don’t have to share all of the gory details, but you can share how you will be sprinting hard the next two months because you had to replace a sub-contractor doing less-than-stellar work.
  3. Share the change communication plan. Assure your team members by letting them know the process and systems you will use to make sure everybody knows about the change in a timely manner. This is also a good time to ask what tools they might need to go and communicate the change effectively for themselves.
  4. Create a pathway for two-way communication. Provide a way for questions to be answered, input to be given, and feedback to be offered. Respond quickly.
  5. Give a deadline. Let your team know when the change/decision/new program/re-org will take place. (Then hold fast to the deadline like your life depends on it. Because your credibility and the trust of your team is most definitely riding on it.)

What about you, leader friend? How do you fill in the blanks for your team?


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