Whether by conscious commission or oblivious omission, change process leaders often confuse others with mixed messages. Ironically, I've found when interviewing or observing leaders, few leaders believe they are prone to this - or at least will fess up to doing this.
Yet, observation suggests the problem is chronic. I suspect mixed messages occur for a variety of reasons. Here a few common causes:
- In an attempt to avoid alarming people, setting off bells, offending some or alienating others, leaders often obfuscate the purpose and content of contemplated change(s).
- Leaders may not be sure themselves of what they're thinking, making it very difficult to communicate clearly, coherently or cogently to any one else.
- Leaders underestimate the power of words and phrases. So, regardless of a communicator's awareness or intentions, even when communicators use similar words or reference common content, specific points and constant expressions are missing, and messages seem mixed.
Politicians call this staying on message. Marketers call this differentiating. Educators call this continuous reinforcement. Broadcasters refer a sting as a repetitive device that signals meaning. My son Andrew, who has a keen interest in psychology, refers to this as construct fixity.
Over the next few postings we'll examine why repetition of sounds, images, words, phrases, and even annunciation are vital tools in processing change. Notably, in our quest for wisdom, we'll gain insights from some experts, including Moses and even some contemporary political characters.