The importance of language in change comms | S3 E3

First published: 15 February, 2022

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Engaging Internal Comms Series 3
Engaging Internal Comms Series 3
The importance of language in change comms | S3 E3

As founder of The MindTime Foundation, John Furey has spent the last 25 years developing the organisation and the MindTime® framework, a revolutionary model for human perception and thinking.

Working with scientists, academics, thought leaders, psychologists and management experts, John and his colleagues have conducted significant scientific and commercial studies and have published their work in peer review journals.

In this episode, he and Craig Smith discuss the importance of language in change comms and John’s experience in this area. They also explore the psychology of employees that communicators can begin to understand when communicating with them.

This relates to the ‘Why are we changing?’ question of the Big Picture Connections Framework, specifically relating to using communications to create a sense of urgency among employees.

The Framework looks at the six key questions that communicators need to be able to answer for their employees when it comes to organisational change.

You can find out how your organisation ranks against these questions and other important metrics of your communication strategies using our free Pulse Check Diagnostic Tool.

Click here to take the short survey and receive your results alongside relevant feedback direct to your inbox.

The journey to MindTime®

After realising a desire to travel the world, John spent his early 20s living in Africa where he witnessed events like the civil war in Kenya and the military coup in Sudan first-hand. When leaving the continent to head to America, he was given a question which sparked his curiosity:

“How had so few managed to dominate so many for so long?”

John found himself asking how all of this could happen and went on to research deeper into human psychology. In 1993, while running his own consultancy company, he was given the insight that all human thought has three foundational forces at work in the perspectives of time.

This helped sparked the idea of MindTime® and furthered his interest in this area. John began to shift his company from a marketing and conceptual design agency into a consultancy that was about human resources and people.

Now, he works with a number of organisations of different sizes from a diverse range of sectors to help them understand their individual differences in personality and behaviour.

Language in change comms

John begins by explaining the three basic thinking directions people use in relation to time when they are receiving information:

  1. Past thinkers – people who are sceptical when given information and need to understand the facts and rationale behind it
  2. Present thinkers – people who look at how this new information will currently affect them and what probabilities is could determine
  3. Future thinkers – people who are often looking at the possibilities that this new information presents

For example, he says those who move towards their subject when communicating have a completely different set of needs to those who don’t as they are fundamentally different mindsets. These people will always have a need to explore the new, meaning their messaging needs to be exciting and explore new possibilities.

According to John, this type of language in change comms will not work for those who take a sceptical approach. They will wait to assess potential risks and evaluate pros and cons before deciding. These people will look to use facts, while their counterparts are happy to communicate using ideas and abstracts.

By using this ‘yes-no’ dynamic, John says he is describing the forces of time that act on these communication styles collectively, meaning it pays to understand which section of this your audience falls into when broadcasting to them.

He goes on further to explain how MindTime® is not used to measure these traits, but rather the time that is used to generate them.

John also explains how this is not a context-specific model and that those who are future-looking will always think like this regardless of their scenarios.

Balancing language in change comms

Through using MindTime®, organisations can gain a self-awareness of how the people in their organisation want to be communicated to. This begins from them having the courage to ask themselves these questions.

Then they can see which employees and which teams are past, present, or future thinkers. Once this thinking is mapped and understood, communicators can see how they talk to a specific part of their organisation.

Gaining this realisation that organisations are made up of these different types of thinking can be invaluable. Everything we do begins with a thought according to John, which eventually drives behaviours.

As previously stated, when it comes to past thinkers, they need facts and are often sceptical about what is being communicated to them. John says this analytical approach can leave the perception that these people are slow, but it comes from the fact that they are assessing risks and making sure what they are hearing is true.

Companies with a high number of engineers, scientists and legal professionals that require accuracy and factualness will often operate around this thought pattern.

For present thinkers, they need practical and clear communications that involve structure to make what they are being told tangible and real. They need to be told things like what they are doing, when it will be done and how it will be completed.

Future thinkers by nature are looking for new ideas and possibilities. This means they need less words or communications, as they are often looking at these future possibilities on their own without being guided through them.

These people are all about inspiration and vision and are often problem solvers. They just need the bottom line and need to be given the chance to explore the rest and work it out for themselves.

“For a communicator, if you understand these different thought patterns that are in the different departments and divisions of your organisation, you can tailor not only the depth and the expansiveness of your messages,” John said. “But you can also edit the specific words you use in your messaging.”

John gave examples of not using the word ‘idea’ with past thinkers, not using the word ‘research’ with future thinkers and not saying that you don’t know something to present thinkers. Importantly this gives communicators an idea of how to build their communications for these different thinking patterns.

Craig then asks if this would require three different forms of communication or a blended approach. John compares the blended approach to democracy, saying no one will ever be fully satisfised from this style. John recommends communicators implement an individual approach.

How leaders think

Craig asks John what type of thinkers leaders generally are from his experience, to which he responds that this differs depending on the organisation.

He compares the leaders of the NHS to that of Tesla, where those running the technology firm will focus much more on ambitions and possibilities. Meanwhile the role of those in the NHS is much more science and data driven, leading them to usually be past thinkers.

“The more perceptual authority an organisation seems to have in the marketplace,” John said. “The more likely that organisation is to have leaders that are past thinking.”

John goes on to mention how leaders around the world have generally changed the way they think, noting how when he was younger, in general there was a lot more scepticism amongst them. Now they have moved to this ‘cult of CEOs’ as he describes it, changing people’s perceptions on what it means to think optimistically.

Although it sounds like a positive step, John believes that this has potentially gone further than is healthy. He explains to Craig how this continuously positive way of thinking and communicating from leaders can often lead to a portion of people who are past thinkers being isolated from these conversations.

His solution to this is for leaders to recognise these three types of thinkers, saying that people are currently viewed as only positive or negative when in fact there is a whole portion of employees being misunderstood here. He believes this comes from people being uncomfortable engaging with others who think differently to them but doing this can bring a host of benefits.

Diagnosing your thinking patters

To find out what type of thinker you are, John and his colleagues have created a free survey which assesses you against 18 different statements. It is highly accurate and coincides with his years of research in this field.

Following completion, users are provided with a report that helps them learn the foundations of why they think the way that they do. This is done by validating their behavioural traits, and showing them how they can use them. Universities can also access the scientific version of the assessment.

All listeners of the Engaging Internal Comms Podcast are encouraged to complete the survey and we will be running the results amongst our listeners in our newsletter, to show what type of thinkers we have listening to the show.

Click here to take the survey and find out what type of thinker you are.

Practical tips for language in change comms

When communicators gain access to insights like those that The MindTime Foundation provide, it needs to be both taken seriously and used continuously according to John.  He continues by saying how professionals should be more mindful of the words they use in their communications based on this information.

This can be done by taking a step back, gaining a better awareness of your audience and understanding what will be impactful for them. Communicators should start to look at the concrete information around them and use what they already know about their colleagues to decide the information they need, and how they wish to receive it.

Something to be considered is someone’s own personal bias. John notes how everyone in the comms (and indeed any) profession will have these, but often don’t recognise this and their own thinking style.

The majority of biases will not be conscious, an example being people leaning towards using certain words, paragraphs, and sentence structures to describe a situation. One step to fixing this would be to take the MindTime survey and learn how your brain thinks says John.

Useful links

The MindTime survey – https://mindtime.com/thebigpicturepeople

The MindTime Foundation – https://www.mindtime.com/

John Furey LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/john-furey-1367961/

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