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The Language of Change

Change” is talked about & experienced so much in many organisations that for some people the word itself is a barrier. Just using that word “change” can create a level of resistance that defies direct scrutiny but all the same prevents engagement. I happen to think that’s also a very human dynamic – don’t we all have words that trigger negative responses in us?

I’m acutely aware of this potential in my work. So, often a starting point for me is exploring the language being used and the meaning or reaction(s) it creates for the people. Language is such a critical aspect of strategy & change, yet leaders often appear to be very poor at recognising let alone exploring it. I’m sure for some that even starting to explore the language around change can even appear daunting. Even change leaders experience change resistance!

If you want to explore the language of “change” with a group and need somewhere to start, here’s something you can use straight away. You’ll also find by using it that it can create a progressive dialogue on how actual or intended change is impacting people.

What Change are we Leading?

When we talk about “change” we can risk being vague about what changes we are actually leading and how we expect to impact people, rather than processes. Fancy project/programme names can get in the way and create a love/hate split. So working beyond the labels, a great way to explore the change we are talking about or experiencing is to use a simple framework that describes the potential pace & depth of change.

This useful framework allows you as a change leader to describe the style & type of change that you envisage or are actually experiencing. As a starting point you can make clear your expectations and facilitate a dialogue about what change others are envisaging or experiencing.

Even if the language in this framework isn’t quite what you need or expect, you can explore with the group what language could be useful in your own framework. The conversation itself allows you to create greater alignment & understanding so you can move beyond the words and together focus on the intent.

Rocket science? Not at all – it’s very straightforward and you can do this easily & effectively. Why not have a go? I’d love to hear how you get on!

Oh and if you get stuck, need a chat or even some help, then give me a shout.


2 thoughts on “The Language of Change

  1. What about active vs reactive? (self-willed and internal vs forced and external change).
    Does proactive mean about the same as “active” in nietzschian or power dynamics terms?
    Proactive does sound more active than reactive. But still, is sounds like someone trying to adapt in advance to something, rather than doing their own thing.
    Reactive=red ocean and proactive=blue ocean, maybe. Hmm.


    Posted by VRNR | June 29, 2014, 9:32 PM
    • Thanks for sharing those thoughts. It’s a good dialogue to have – what does it mean to you? Essentially, that’s my invitation. To explore what change might mean to us and how the language we use can help us unlock some better understanding.

      I suspect philosophically we could spend many moons discussing the differences & similarities of proactive / active / reactive change. Practically, how does it matter to us right now…

      … Is my proactive your reactive, and if so what does that difference create to help or hinder change?
      … Are we kidding ourselves being “proactive” because everyone else has seen this coming for ages?
      … If we’re being reactive are we aware of the potential impact and how we can support others?

      Lots of illustrative questions but I believe it’s the conversation that counts.


      Posted by David Goddin | June 30, 2014, 10:24 AM


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