Effective communication during organisational change is vital to deliver true transformation – but what is your body language saying? Is it conflicting with your verbal communication? By being aware of body language, and even modifying it where necessary, difficult messages can be delivered in a more authentic way.
Making any kind of organisational change and moving away from the status quo can be a challenging time for any business. Change brings uncertainty, uncertainty leads to anxiety and the office can quickly become a hot bed of gossip. Morale drops, focus on work goes out of the window and productivity falls.
Effective communication is essential, of course, during such disruption and transition but communication is not just about words: spoken, heard or written, nor just about the tone of voice. Communication is also about body language – those non-verbal signals that may be giving a completely different message to the one intended.
The unspoken element of communication
Research by Albert Mehrabian (1971) suggesting 55 per cent of the credibility of communication is based on body language is often mis-quoted and related only to feelings and attitudes. If body language was that powerful it would be more important than the actual words yet words are essential for full communication. However, it’s clear that body language is an important factor in communication. Whether we are aware of it or not, we are constantly interacting with each other with wordless signals.
For that reason, misunderstandings can easily arise when verbal and non-verbal signals conflict. For instance, a manager may be saying how sorry he or she is to have to make people redundant, but body language may reveal a complete lack of empathy. It is, therefore, essential to be aware of one’s own body language to avoid such misunderstandings.
Communicating the right message
Body language such as facial expressions, gestures, lack of eye contact and even our posture can add emphasis to our words but also reveal hidden feelings or meanings. When change brings unwelcome situations then emotions such as anxiety, anger or stress may show through unconsciously. We may cross our arms and avoid eye contact even whilst managing to keep our voices calm or positive; but people pick up on these signals and our spoken communication does not have the desired effect.
One of the reasons formal change management is important in organisations is because of the focus on communicating the right messages. All too often strategic change is resisted because of a lack of effective communication. By consciously being aware of our body language and ensuring it is consistent with our words, people will receive the message we wish to communicate, which is essential during times of uncertainty.
Positive body language
Positive body language can reinforce and support your spoken message so adjusting your body language can make your spoken communication more effective. Organisational change often means disruption to the status quo – maybe people will have to retrain or be assigned a different role – but that message can be delivered positively: new skills and new roles could open up new career opportunities, for instance. So in a situation such as this positive body language could reinforce the message that the change will provide new opportunities.
Of course, sometimes there is bad news to deliver and whatever your body language projects it is the words that have the greatest impact; but even in these circumstances positive body language can soften the blow. If, for instance, you have to inform people of job losses or relocations then showing empathy through positive body language may make the bad news easier to bear. If you can truly understand the impact the changes will have on real people and empathise with them, then this can positively influence ongoing relationships with the people who remain.
Here are 3 simple ways to project positive body language:
- Maintain an open posture – don’t slump forward
- Keep arms unfolded and relaxed
- Make eye contact
Bear in mind that people from different cultural backgrounds may interpret body language differently. Also, non-verbal communication is a two-way process, just like verbal communication, so watch how others are responding with their body language to help you determine whether you are getting the right message across and building a good rapport.