How Is Your (Change) Hearing?


big earsMost of the time when people talk about change communication, they focus on what you are or should be saying. I know I have blogged about that on several occasions. A good change mentor, coach, or practitioner will also talk about the importance of having open communications channels, and about fostering dialogue; I’ve written about that as well. What is generally missing in discussions about change communication, however, is a focus on listening. Today, that is our topic.

If you are responsible for the execution of a change, no matter what the setting or your role in it, you cannot succeed without listening, and hearing. While the listening and hearing I will describe in a moment are always important, they take on oversized importance during change.

There are three things that you should always be listening for.

Listen for what is putting your change at risk.

Previously we have talked about the importance of taking counsel from people that tell you what you need to know, not what you want to hear. This is not about being paranoid; it is about being sure that you have every bit of information that you can get to inform your decisions.

You need to not only empower people to tell you the bad news, you need to encourage them to tell you early. One of my mentors refers to this as a “red is good” culture; it is good when risks are raised early, and leaders act to mitigate them. Hearing the bad news early gives you the best opportunity to mitigate it without jeopardizing your change.

Listen for what is not being said.

During major change, resistance is inevitable. If you don’t see it, one of two things is taking place. Either it is underground, or you are going through the illusion of change rather than actually making progress.

Resistance happens. Hear it. Hear what it has to say. It is the voice of resistance that will surface many of your risks, and offer many of the solutions to mitigating them…if you hear it.

In order to both listen for and hear resistance, you need to slow down the conversation. All too often, when we listen we are in the process of formulating our response as the other person is speaking. We are hearing our answer take shape before we hear–or fully grasp–what they are saying.

Listen, and ask clarifying questions. What do you mean when you say that? Can you help me understand why? What are you seeing or hearing that leads you to that conclusion? What are you not telling me?  Etc.

Listen for the seeds of success.

There is a wonderful line in Anthem by Leonard Cohen. “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

A lot of your focus during change is on the struggle, on the risks, on the challenges. It has to be; those are all part of big changes; you ignore them or give them short shrift at your own risk.

But don’t let that be your only focus. Also listen for the seeds of success. Where are those cracks? Where is the light getting in? Where are the seeds of success being planted?

You need to listen to them, because at first they may seem very small. Too often we tout the milestones: we’re on budget, we’ve run the training programs, we have launched the new benefits package. But we don’t see the real seeds of light that say we are on the way to realizing the full results of the change.

Maybe its a halt in the decline of customer satisfaction ratings for the Smithville call center. Or its a small turnaround in patient outcomes in the clinic that moved from line of service to patient team care. Maybe its overhearing someone who had been an early voice of resistance now talking up the change in the cafeteria. Or, its knowing for the first time that you have the courage to carry the change through to closure.

Listen for the seeds of success. And when you hear them, shine a light on them. Applaud them. Herald them. Help them to germinate, and to spread.

What counsel are you able to share on change hearing?

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