Consider the consequences of language in organizational change
One of the biggest challenges leaders face is managing organizational change. It's not surprising that many people have a bad, frustrating, or disappointing experience during times of change because leaders handle it poorly. In his paper "Discursive Positioning and Planned Change in Organizations," Kevin Barge, professor of communication in the College of Liberal Arts at Texas A&M University, states that our experiences regarding change are influenced largely by the words that we say and the impact of those words on our coworkers. According to Barge, if we are conscious of the effects our words can have on others, we will be more likely initiate successful change efforts and build productive organizational relationships.
"It gets us thinking about the kinds of relationships we want to build with people and what kind of identity we want to create," said Barge.
Consider the consequences of language
Barge uses the example a chair of a nonprofit organization who issues an edict to his employees not to discuss the recent termination of the director. Barge shows that although the communication was clear, it creates problems in the organization as it casts employees as being untrustworthy and in an inferior position to management.
"Most approaches to organizational change emphasize the importance of providing employees clear and accurate information regarding the change… the argument I make in the paper is that messages also have identity and relational implications that must be given attention."
Barge suggests using communication that creates a collaborative, cooperative work environment. According to Barge, an example of this communication would look like this:
"Look, we have a set of really challenging circumstances; the public knows we're having difficulty, has important consequences for our funding. It would be helpful if we could not talk about this in public."
According to Barge, this language communicates that the members of the organization are all in the situation together, that no one is inferior, and that everyone can be trusted with the information.
"How we communicate matters. It's more than getting your point across clearly. It's much more about what kinds of identities and relationships you invite or create when you talk," said Barge.
Barge believes that if managers and leaders were more sensitive to the power of language to shape people's perceptions about situations, they would be better able to construct messages that facilitate organizational change.
"Discursive Positioning and Planned Change in Organizations"
Barge's research interests focus on social constructionism and discursive approaches to change. Social constructionism looks at how language creates different types of identities and relationships, and a discursive approach to change focuses in on how communication is used in planned change intervention. For example, discursive change would focus on how changes in policy, structure, and the ways in which things are funded are communicated.
According to Barge, discursive change looks at how communication shapes people's perception of change and how it can be used to facilitate constructive change.
"Discursive Positioning and Planned Change in Organizations" has been accepted for publication in Human Relations, an international journal that focuses or organizational issues such as management, leadership, and organizational change.
Barge received his B.A. in Speech Communication from Millikin University, his M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Kansas. He has been a professor at Texas A&M since 2007. His work has been published in The Academy of Management Review, Management Communication Quarterly, Communication Theory, Journal of Applied Communication Research, and Communication Monographs. Barge is a former editor of Communication Studies and past president of the Central States Communication Association.