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How-to: Communicate in difficult situations

Martina Beranek, Consultant

Almost every day, the media confront us with stories about mergers, acquisitions or reorganizations. Experience shows that companies that attach greater importance to their communications in such difficult situations and align them with certain principles have a better chance of going their way with fewer frictional losses.

Sprachblase Kommunikation

Anyone who has experienced a merger or restructuring knows that people are particularly moved by uncertainty at such times. Because those affected, who do not know the background to a change and the future steps, begin to speculate. Rumors, in turn, fuel uncertainty and lead to a loss of trust. If this is compounded by the perception that the change agents lack empathy, the situation can easily escalate.

Pick up with facts and on an emotional level

In change situations - and here the type of change plays a secondary role - the aim should always be to pick people up with facts and on an emotional level. For example, those affected want to know:

  • What led to this change?

  • Would there be no other way?

  • What are the future plans for the company and for me?

  • What will happen next?

  • Will I lose my job/position?

In order not to forget anything important in the hot phase of communicating, I recommend using a simple visual thought aid. The stick figure 'Felix the Happy' shows you which three topics are important in a change process for those affected and should therefore always be the basis of communication: Understanding, facts and a look into the future.

Strichmännchen Felix im Veränderungsprozess

Understanding (heart): Change situations are characterized by strong, often negative emotions. Employers must take this into account in their communications. Employees whose fears are addressed feel respected and taken seriously. They are therefore more willing to stay on board, even if they may not agree with the changes.

Facts (head/brain): Every change situation has rational causes. It is advisable to communicate the underlying facts to employees as openly as possible. Because only those who know the background of a change can understand and accept it and possibly even support it.

Outlook (hand): People in change situations need stopping points for the future. Because if you don't know where the journey is going, you feel insecure and may not want to sail along. Regular communication about the next steps helps to keep employees on board and also prevents rumors.

Have you yourself experienced a change process in which 'Felix' would not have been entirely happy? Are you facing a similar situation soon? We look forward to hearing from you.


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