Listening Cycles

Jan 30, 2011 1 Comment by

Studies have claimed that the average person has thousands of advertisements thrown in front of their eyes and ears each day.  Most people get dozens if not hundreds of emails per day.  Add to that the signs, billboards, newsletters and announcements and you have a cacophony of messages vying for people’s attention.

With all of this noise clogging the communication pipes, how can you tell if anyone is even listening when you try to tell them about your change?

In today’s article, I will share three ways to make the most of your change communication opportunity. The first two ideas may sound familiar to you.  The third may be something new:

1. Sharpen your core change message. Be clear about what you want them to know and keep it as short as you can while still getting that point across.  Here are a few clarifying questions that you should be able to answer with 1 or 2 sentences:

  1. What’s changing?
  2. What’s NOT changing?
  3. When is this going to happen?
  4. Why should I care?
  5. What do I need to do to get ready?

2. Recognize the target audience. Identify the people who need to know the content of your message. In the case of an organizational change, this is more than the answer to the question “Who’s impacted?”

It also includes knowing who’s interested and just as importantly; who’s not.

Why is it important to inform those who are just interested?  Because in my experience, the average interested person will “fill in the blanks” if you don’t proactively communicate with them.  It’s important that you fill those blanks in with your message and not allow people to guess or assume the worst.

Use this knowledge of which stakeholders constitute the real audience for your change message to maximize your impact and prevent a waste of communication resources.

3. Fit their natural listening cycles. Even if you nail the first two steps in this process, it’s almost certain that not everyone will be tuned to your frequency at the time that you deliver the message.  One of the things I have noticed when communicating within organizations is that they tend to have a natural “listening rhythm” or “listening cycle”.  I’ve drawn the picture below to illustrate what I mean:

People may be completely open to hearing your message at point “A” and totally ignore it at point “C”.  In this scenario, their openness to hearing your message is fading at point “B” and recovering at point “D”.

Let me give you an example of how I have seen this listening cycle work.

I was once part of an organization that relied on their quarterly company meeting to make strategic announcements.  Several geographic locations were linked in by video and nearly all employees attended the event in their local branch.

Side Effects: The reliance on this communication channel to delivery key messages also caused our company meeting to develop into a sort of catalyst for making big strategic decisions in the weeks leading up to the meeting.  The culture of the company evolved as well to anticipate the big announcements.  The rumor mill would start churning even as the executive team worked out the details of the news.  The interest level would hit a peak just as the meeting took place, and with all ears tuned to hear the message, the key points usually sank in instantly.

Listen for Your Listening Cycles: What are the potential listening cycles within your organization?  They may not be as crisp as a quarterly meeting cycle. They may revolve around weekly status meetings in some parts of the company and the monthly sales cycle in another.  They may vary by business unit from clearly pronounced to subtle. Watch for patterns that follow the business cycle, the annual calendar or the seasons as well.

Summary: There are a lot of things competing for the time and attention of your stakeholders. In order for your change messages to be heard in the whirlwind of communication that hits the average stakeholder, you should focus your message, identify your target audience and pay attention to the natural listening cycles they follow.

-Steve

Questions for Chatter:

  1. Have you ever seen a solid message land flat because the sender ignored the natural listening cycles of the target audience?
  2. How can your team uncover  the natural listening cycles of each part of your organization?

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Change Communication, Change Execution, Change Leadership, Stakeholder Readiness, Team Dynamics

About the author

I help people and teams succeed with big changes... never a dull moment!

One Response to “Listening Cycles”

  1. Tweets that mention Listening Cycles | theBigRocks of Change -- Topsy.com says:

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by chihos, chihos. chihos said: Learn to leverage the natural listening cycles of your organizations & improve your #communication: http://bit.ly/hWBzhl #teams #SAP #ERP […]

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