Riley says it's not just jargon, but executives' propensity to push
action that alienates employees. "At the top level, people are
talking with language that is very action-oriented, things like 'We
are trying to inject speed' or 'We are engineering our success,'"
she says. "A boss needs to be able to shift from using the language
of speed and urgency to the language of inclusiveness: Here is what
we are doing, and here's what we need you to do."
Bottom line, says Walters, the key to implementing real change is
to respect workers' need for quality, timely information. "When it
comes down to it, organizations are people working together to meet
goals," she says. "They're not inhuman machines. Change efforts
fail because the language used to present them fails to recognize
there are people involved."
So how do you choose the right language for explaining change to
the people who have to carry it out? Patricia Riley, a
communication professor at USC, suggests spending almost as much
time preparing to present your change plan as you do formulating
Managers should first brainstorm a long list of metaphors and
sentences they might use to describe the change and how it will
affect employees. Then, Riley says, it's helpful to decide on a
title or phrase that people will remember. "You need to decide what
the overarching umbrella phrase for the change is going to be," she
says. "It has to have a name that is both going to resonate with
people in terms of the change and also be memorable."
For Jonathan Kramer, a San Diego-based business psychologist,
perhaps the most important word to include in any presentation
about change is "because." He cites a study by social psychologist
Ellen Langer that showed the power of that word. When people making
a request - to cut in the line at the bank or to take someone
else's seat on a bus, for instance - added the word "because" to
their question, the cooperation rate increased from 60 percent to
94 percent, the study found.