When You Get Resistance To Your Communication Advice
Are you a professional communicator working in an organisation to advise others how to improve their messaging or communication? Then you’re bound to get resistance to your communication advice.
- You’re helping an executive or senior leader develop a message or comms piece.Yet they’ve come to you very late in the process and expect you to advise them on the very piece possible in a ridiculously short time. So, there’s no time to consider audience, purpose and focused messaging – all the good stuff that influences good communication results. Nor is there appetite for anything more than superficial communication advice.
- You’ve drafted a document based on best practices communication that must go through many stakeholders for review.Your communications advice starts in the form of a document or email to meet a purpose. Your version features a good, logical flow with well-chosen words to increase readability and support the overall purpose.However, each stakeholder has a very different view of what that purpose is and the style requirements. As each new person reviews the comms piece the original meaning gets lost and the readability worsens. The final and new “butchered” version introduces ideas in a truncated fashion with words not optimised for readability let alone purpose.In some instances, the final butchered version leaves your project “realm” to the PR or marketing department who then use it to create something totally different.
- Someone has asked for your help when they think they’ve done a stellar job.Someone in your office comes in asking for a “wordsmith” who can edit their work.You can see lots of ways they could improve their message but they are not open to your ideas. In fact, you discover that all they want is for you as an “expert” to tell them they’ve done a great comms job.
These are just some of the frustrating experiences for a professional communicator in an organisation. They all involve resistance to your communication. Despite your best advice, the same old mediocre messaging or comms goes out to the business.
The easy thing is to give up. Particularly in an organisation.
But this doesn’t help you personally as a communicator. Giving up lowers your standard and reduces the successful outcomes you work so hard for.
So, what do you do?
Let me share with you some thoughts on dealing with resistance to your communication advice:
- Patience is a virtue
- Education can change people
- Become good at explaining the problems and offering solutions
Patience is a virtue when it comes to resistance
I had a mate at school who used to quote “patience is a virtue, my friend” in true Shakespearean style. Not sure what he was saying to me at the time… but it’s a line that applies to your work as a professional communicator in an organisation.
You’ll not only be virtuous but more successful.
You need to remember that most people in management or leadership roles have never been taught how to craft a message and target it effectively to an audience. They may have learnt how to write an essay on Shakespeare at school… but that’s only going to prepare them for work politics! Not business communication.
Many people learn to communicate by osmosis. They pick up stuff from working on the job in organisations where the comms just isn’t that great. Emails will go out with messages lost in long paragraphs and passive sentences. Ideas in documents will be poorly organised and create confusion. All that sort of thing…
Your purpose as a professional communicator to improve the quality might make sense to you. But maybe not so much to someone you are trying to help – despite any lip service from others about wanting to improve.
You see, improving communication is often a hard, unappealing job on top of a host of other more important pressures people face each day. (Little do they know how important this skill is for making life easier for them!). So, when you get them to change how they communicate, you’re forcing them to stop and re-think a lot of what they’ve always done.
In some ways it is a change management job! And that kind of takes time.
So, you need to be patient, without giving up your standards, and focus on educating them long term whilst selling the benefits in the short term.
Let’s explore these ideas a little further, starting with education.
Education can change people
You can’t expect a person to write an active sentence in their email if they don’t even know what the difference is between a passive and active sentence.
Yet this might be one thing you need a leader to do in their latest email that you’ve been asked to review. So, what do you do?
Educate them on what they need to do and why it is helpful to them. Let them see the difference between the good and bad approach and encourage them to go for good.
Of course, old ways of doing things (particularly when it comes to comms) are so hard wired into someone that they can be not just hard to convince but hard to change. That’s why earlier I mentioned that this might be a change management exercise. That’s because some of the communication advice you offer may require huge change in the person you are offering it to.
So what’s a good way to encourage change?
Prosci’s ADKAR model might be a good formula to start with.
ADKAR is a model that describes the process someone needs to go through to make a change. In a nutshell, this involves a person needing to be aware of the need to change, desiring to make that change, knowing how to change, having a working ability to live the change and finally having that change reinforced…
There’s a lot to it that you can read more about here.
But for our purposes today, why not adopt this into your process of educating a person who you are offering communication advice?
Start with helping them to understand why there’s a need to change. Then create the desire. From this point, you can start training them in very small micro sessions about what they can do that will give them better business results (such as focus on choosing plain words when drafting emails).
As they start adopting these ideas you can “coach” them through your reviews and encourage them later after you see them sending emails that follow your communication advice.
Education (and change) takes time, which may be a challenge. So, you might need a shorter term strategy to use at the same time. For example, when you don’t have time to educate but have to impress an important comms change on someone fairly quickly.
That’s when you need to be good at explaining the problems and offering solutions.
Become good at explaining the problems and offering solutions
One of the best senior business consultants I have ever worked with taught me something very powerful many years ago.
We were discussing a solution for a client who couldn’t see outside the box of their problem to a solution that would end up saving them a lot of money. The client really didn’t have the expertise to understand the problem and wanted to adopt a different solution to ours that would lead to serious problems.
So, we had to suggest to the client (a senior decision maker in the company who was paying our bill) that he was wrong and that we were right.
The senior business consultant I was working with suggested that we use the following formula:
- Find something to agree with the client on to let them know we understood their situation and what they were wanting to do
- Explain that in our experience, this could be a major problem because it would affect what they were wanting to achieve.
- Agitate the problem by giving examples of where the wrong approach caused major issues
- Gently suggest that following the client’s suggested strategy would lead to business problems
- Turn it around and say “but if you do what we suggest” you’ll avoid the problem and get better results
This is an approach that he used all the time because the role of a consultant often involves telling people what they need but don’t want to hear. This approach sounds quite simple. But it can be difficult to do, particularly if your “client” is head strong and resistant to your communication advice.
The business consultant made it look easy because he had done it many times over many years.
With practise and growing experience you can use approach to powerfully turn people around.
In summary, the main thing is to identify the problems they’ll face if they follow their own approach, agitate it, and then offer a solution that will avoid that and lead to better results.
Being a professional communicator in an organisation that requires your expert advice can be pretty hard. Organisational structures, personalities and business necessities can make it hard for others to adopt your advice. Even though it will save them time and help build their business.
You need to be patient with people you are advising and educate them in the long term about what makes good communication work. When it comes to offering advice in the short term without the benefit of time to educate your client, try using the formula described above.
And above all, don’t allow the resistance to your communication advice dampen your enthusiasm to get better as a communicator. It doesn’t matter how good you are as a communicator, there will always something to improve. And if you can see what you can improve and actually make those improvements, that’s what will ultimately make you a master over the craft of communication. And that’s more important than if your client accepts your advice.
Hope this is helpful.
Here’s to your communication success!