How to Turn Difficult Conversations into Strategic Communications

Strategic communication is the act of sharing ideas, processes, or information relevant to an organization’s strategic goals through advanced planning; it guides ongoing information transfer among stakeholders. Advanced planning is the key term here—what sets strategic communication apart from other forms of communication is the level of intentionality behind it.

One common scenario that requires strategic communication is any type of organizational change, for example the messages that nonprofit leaders send to inform a team about the steps of a transition or explain the decisions behind the roll-out of a new initiative. During periods of change, the purpose of such communication is to encourage individuals to understand the rationale for change and embrace an open and positive state of mind so that the organization experiences sustainable results. Strategic communication helps to mitigate relationships with all the various stakeholders who are affected by the change.

Pictured: A business meeting where professionals are making difficult conversations into strategic communications.

Navigating difficult conversations

Many nonprofit leaders understand the power of strategic communication in the context of proactive messaging, such as an organization-wide email or presentation at the next all-staff meeting. Yet leaders often fail to apply the principles effectively when most needed: The most impactful moments of strategic communication occur reactively, through spontaneous face-to-face conversation, in real-time.

Navigating conflict is rarely easy for anyone and is especially difficult for nonprofit leaders who serve as ambassadors of their organizations’ mission, vision, and values. As a diplomat for your organization’s strategy, though, it’s important for you to diligently prepare for both formal and informal strategic communication opportunities, especially in times of change.

How can you, as a nonprofit manager, apply strategic communication—which requires advanced planning—in the moment? Practice. Unfortunately, you rarely have the luxury of preparation for many difficult conversations, but by practicing communication skills and key messaging ahead of time, you can be prepared for tough conversations as they unfold. This habit is essential for strategic communication success.

Listening for feedback

Listening to people is a vital component of strategic communication. Listening involves monitoring the environment to stay aware of what challenges people are facing, proactively seeking input for ideas the organization should consider, and acting on feedback from earlier communications.

Listening is one of the most important communication skills to practice in preparation for difficult conversations. As you become a better listener, your employees will feel valued, and you can gain critical insight for your organization. Consider the following tips for more active listening.

  • Carefully listen with the goal of understanding the message, not just for your opportunity to respond.
  • Pay attention to nonverbal cues, such as tone of voice, body language, and eye contact to understand the broader context of the message.
  • Although agreement is not necessary, listen without judgment and acknowledge that you have heard what is being said.
  • Most critically, respond to any feedback offered voluntarily; responding helps to build rapport, while not responding can eliminate trust.

Practicing strategic communication

Brighter Strategies recently launched a leadership training cohort, part of our Nonprofit Management Series. During one of the sessions, Strategic Communications and Difficult Conversations, I will explore this practice in depth, using hypothetical situations to help attendees become comfortable responding to situations when there isn’t the luxury of preparation time. Participants will practice both planned strategic communications and on-the-fly responses to difficult conversations through role-playing exercises with the help of a professional actress.

Learn how to condition your strategic communication muscles so you are ready to respond to critical conversations when needed. Find more details about the leadership training cohort, and contact us today.

 

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