Engaging people seems to be a hard thing to do. It shouldn’t be. Here are ten tips for engaging people in your workplace.

Engaging people: Make it Personal I

Ever received a really important message from “The Management”? Or worse, have you sent one? Either by written memo perhaps pinned on the office notice board or as an attachment to a broadcast email? This choice of delivery is poor for urgent and important messages (see Bandwidth below). The style of delivery is just downright disengaging. If you want your messages to engage put some of your personality into them. Sending sterile, functional messages about change without a hint of individuality begets a sterile group=think response. At the very least sign your own name.

Engaging people:Make it Personal II

There is nothing like having a “stake in the game” to get people to sit up and listen. If what you are talking about has a significant impact on people, then say so. If, for instance, the business you are accountable for is likely to suffer unless changes are made, try starting with, “Unless something changes, some of us will not be employed here in twelve months time”. Equally, if the message is a positive one, talk about the direct impact on people through wages, career opportunities, intellectual challenge and advancement. Colour your message with direct reference to the individual goals and aspirations of the people with whom you are communicating.

Engaging people:Make them Accountable

Whether your message is a positive or a negative one, frame it as an opportunity for which each individual is accountable. Often people like to think that someone else will do the work for them when confronted by a change. They do not do this consciously most of the time. Consciously, they think that they have heard the message and are making the changes necessary. Observing their actions, however, tells a different story. They are stuck in transition, not quite casting off the old and not yet fully embracing the new.

When giving a message of change, make it clear upfront that each individual is accountable for their actions in response to the need for change. Go further and make it clear what rewards, both positive and negative, will accrue for success or failure to respond in a manner that assists in delivering the required change.

Engaging people: Deliver it through an Authority Figure

People listen to others they perceive to have power. Power comes from many different sources. An obvious one is that of position. So, perhaps delegate upwards for the delivery of your message. Another source of power is expertise. For technical aspects of your message of change defer to a person the recipients of your message perceive as being expert. In a large organisation, get the local heroes of the organisation on board enough to help present your message with enthusiasm. It does not matter what position they have. What matters is the level of referential power they have.

Remember that authority lies in the eye of the beholder and changes with the nature of the topic.

Engaging people: Create the “Ah-ha” Moment

We live most of our life seeing things from our own frame of reference. We find it difficult to imagine not knowing what we know and what we have experienced. When we communicate a message of change, however, it is imperative that we unlearn what we know. We must speak to people from a frame where all the dots are not neatly, logically connected. We must create the dots and the connections for people. Whilst we have been worrying about the strategy of the organisation and the tactics required to achieve the goal we have set, most people have been worrying about doing their job well, getting on with people and helping out their family and friends as best they can. It is our job to provide enough “Ah-ha” moments in our message of change such that enough people “get it” like we do.

Engaging people: Frame it positively

Creating a negative frame for communicating a message of change is a method guaranteed to disengage our audience. If you find that your message, on reflection is peppered with too many negative references, the solution is simple. Identify the negative messages and turn them into positives. For example, a change required to save an organisation from bankruptcy which could still potentially lose 150 jobs out of a 800 strong workforce is saving 650 jobs. Or a change in product range and marketing channels which requires a workforce re-education is not a lot of hard work to adjust, but an exciting opportunity to gain new skills, make the company more profitable and make employees skills more transferrable.

Engaging people: Use your Body

When we communicate, people evaluate whether what we say is what we mean, placing most importance on what we do with our body (55%), then how we say the words (38%) and lastly, the words themselves (7%). If you are serious about getting your message about change across then don’t slouch or avert your eyes or make inappropriate facial gestures. Don’t talk fast when conveying important points, don’t speak in a monotone and prepare so that you do not stumble over what you have to say. Do be animated, move about the room and let your hands do some of the talking, but not all of it. Do allow some emotion to show but not enough to be seen as losing control. Speak with passion and your body will tell its own congruent story unconsciously.

Engaging people: Maximise the Bandwidth

The more important and more urgent the message, the greater bandwidth required to engage people. Messages of change by email do not cut it. If you are a senior manager of a geographically dispersed organisation, earn your frequent flyer points and go and see the people. Talk with them one-to-many and give the opportunities to engage one-to-one. If you cannot get everywhere, delegate the message to others who can. Or, cut a video, remembering the tip on using your body.

Engaging people: Tell a Story

Take people along an emotional journey, not just the facts and figures. Whether it is good news or bad news, people connect much more freely with emotions than with words. What is more, they will remember the story long after they have forgotten or distorted the facts in their mind. Tell people what you feel, see and hear now and in the future as part of telling your story. Tell people what you expect them to feel, see and hear.

Another powerful communication tool to aid memory of a story is the use of symbols. I do not mean computer generated widgets and icons, although that may help the visual communication style people in your audience. I mean a physical act. For example, in finally getting a group of people to accept and adopt a new inventory system, which they had been misusing and under-utilising for two years, I burnt the stock cards they relied on in front of them at a party organised to symbolise the change from the old to the new. It was a powerful symbol. There was no turning back from using the system properly and making the system better which then had many downstream benefits in automating inventory and manufacturing processes.

Engaging people: Speak in their Language

People do not see the world the same way. Dependent on our upbringing, our personality, our mood on the day, we hear things with a different emphasis. We process the information we filtered out from what we heard differently. It is almost impossible for us to have the same understanding of a topic without making connection within the same frame of reference. To get to the same frame of reference start with using the same language.

Speaking the same language is not about mimicking speech patterns and use of vernacular language. Although, peppering your communication with some vernacular speech consistent with your audience is worth the effort, as long as it does not come across as forced. What is more important is to reframe the message into the words that means something to the recipient. For example, talk to front line employees about earning higher wages to be able to afford to give our children a better education than we had, rather than banging on about the profit prerogative. Save that for shareholders.