Don’t change, evolve!

If you have had issues with communication – or anything else – there may come a point when you learn something new that changes everything for how you were thinking. A word to the wise: When you’re ready to make a change, you should show, not tell.

Have you ever worked for a manager who said “just this once” at least twice a week? A colleague who was always going to have the data for you next week for sure? A friend who is reliably ten minutes late? We’ve all met these people. Many of us have been one or more of them. But then something happens and they – we – realize something has to give. Here’s the thing: old habits die hard, and telling people you’ll change when you’re not going to is a habit that surrounds all the other habits.

This blog is about career communication, so that’s what I’m going to talk about here. Imagine you are the sort who never speaks up in a meeting. Your manager has questioned whether you’re having an impact within the team. That’s a danger sign, and you know you need to do something different. But if you come in tomorrow pounding the table and telling everybody what’s what, not only will you have stirred up people who weren’t ready for it. You will have burned through social capital with people who appreciated your low-key approach more than your manager. So the key is to speak up gradually.

If you’ve been low-key in meetings before, but you really need to make something happen, research the hell out of it. Make sure you have your points nailed down. And choose what you’re going to say to insert yourself into the conversation… not the idea, the actual words. This is a speech you’re preparing for a very short, impromptu presentation. Make sure you pay attention in the meeting and lead with your two or three sentences. Then shut up and allow for questions. (If you’re nervous, feed a colleague you trust a question to ask.) This is it for the first meeting.

Over the next couple weeks, you can try to insert yourself two or three times on one or two issues. Stick to a few issues so the impression given is that you’ve started to speak up because this is something you care about and just couldn’t sit still and listen about it any longer. In this way, you’ll be starting to make an impact, but without making such a dramatic change that your old friends are taken aback but those you’re speaking up toward don’t believe it. From there, you have to keep living the change. In time, it will be real and you’ll have made it happen.

The same thing goes with another common issue: chronic lateness. Do not announce that from now on you’ll always be on time. Just be on time. If you don’t make it every time, no one will be more judgemental than they were before but if you’ve made a fuss, people will be keeping score. When you stop having people joke that you’re early because you were on time, you’ll know that your change is complete and you’ll notice people stop secretly making side plans to cover for your inevitable lateness and the issues it causes. This is how you make a change.

So, to recap: When you’re making a change, take it slow and steady. Allow a little room for backsliding by making the change instead of talking about it and getting people watching for you to fail. In time, you’ll be living in a different and better world for you and what you were trying to change will have been forgotten by most.

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