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Change communication: Adapting in 2021

If we’re to make headway in 2021, we’re going to have to change the way we communicate.


Because the game has changed.

I’ll remember 2020 as the year everything changed.

Pandemics, economic pain and protests have hogged the headlines.

The prospect of popping over for a cup of tea with granny now feels like a trip to Disneyland.

And rather than ushering in the New Year with open arms, I expect many of us will be taking great delight in kicking the old one down into the cellar.

2021 offers the potential of seismic shifts in the way we live.

And our communication has to adjust in the same way.

So how can we build great relationships in 2021?

1. Place empathy at the heart of your communication

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There’s a lot of heartache out there.

The acute pain of lost friends and family, and economic pain as unemployment pushes many further into poverty.

Business owners are now former business owners.

Whole sections of the economy have disappeared.

Acute pain prompts natural sympathy and empathy.

When we hear those directly affected, we make a conscious effort to change our tone, our message and our actions.

But there’s another trend to be aware of that’s less obvious: the return of humanity.

The millions that clapped and crashed pots & pans together for Clap for Carers in the early summer.

The near £40million raised by the far-travelled Captain Tom Moore by his hundredth birthday.

The momentum built and sustained by the Black Lives Matter movement in the wake of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

The rainbows that adorned our windows and the observance of the “stay at home” message.

Empathy, humanity and selflessness are the new normal.

Celebrities are hung out to dry after lockdown breaches.

Politicians are forced into insignificance after failing to self-isolate.

Businesses lose respect and customers when they’re failing to put others before themselves.

So any marketing campaigns run in 2021 must place empathy at their heart.


By putting people first and profit second.

Just like and Captain Obvious.

2. Become a better virtual presenter

change communication, virtual presenter, pink elephant comms

March 2020 took many of us by such shock that it was a while for many organisations got up and running.

Laptops, earphones, dodgy internet quality, poor framing.

(And personally, early inability to use the mute button while my daughter shouted “daddy I need the toilet!” during a client call).

Largely, people have found a way by now.

A space to call their own, better wi-fi and a decent webcam.

But the overall quality is still very low.

We still see silhouettes of presenters with windows in the background.

Most people looking at the screen when talking.

(And the worst, deciding it’s ok to eat lunch with the camera and microphone on during a meeting).

Becoming a good virtual presenter in 2021 is the equivalent of learning how to dress properly.

If you become really good at it, expect to become far more valuable to your organisation.

Here’s one way to improve: through our online e-learning Academy.

3. Assert yourself to win your time back

Demonstrating empathy is critical.

So is asserting yourself to avoid becoming overloaded with work.

As flexible working becomes the new normal, the job descriptions and working parameters have shifted beyond recognition.

And as businesses put survival first, we’ve all become salespeople.

Most of us are working evenings, and those with school-age kids find themselves working Saturday and Sunday to allow for home-schooling during the week.

It’s easy to become a victim of aggressive management.

So instead, assert yourself whilst always remaining decent and empathetic.

Here’s how to say no to unreasonable demands online, whilst still keeping everyone onside.

4. Become un-Scottish

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I say un-Scottish for the four-fifths of our audience that live or work here.

But Scottishness (the negative part, at least) affects all of us.

What do I mean?

The fear of standing up for being shot down.

The fear of displaying confidence for being accused of arrogance.

And the use of weak language when the stakes are highest in job interviews and major pitches.

To flourish in 2021, we have to put others’ interests first.

But we also need to demonstrate our value clearly

So if you’re going for a job, tell your potential employer you’re absolutely determined to help them thrive in 2021.

If you’re pitching for work, make it clear that you’re totally committed to the company.

“Hopefully” “try” and “do my best” may have sufficed in a booming economy, but they’re so 2020.

5. The fortune is in the follow-up

change communication, andrew mcfarlan, fortune is in following up

This has always been a neat little phrase, but my goodness will it be relevant next year.

As we continue to work from home and find systems that work for us, our organisation and prioritisation will suffer.

Email responses are down.

But what’s our response when we fail to hear back the first time and the second time?

The best one, of course, is to pick up the phone.

I’ve had a number of pieces of work this year that went from zero response to signed contract within a day.

Simply because I picked up the phone and asked if a decision had been made.

2021 will require just the right balance of patience and perseverance.

What lies ahead?

change communication, andrew mcfarlan, pink elephant comms

The reality is, we’re all unsure of what’s around the corner.

So while New Year resolutions may be difficult to articulate, we can all change small aspects of our behaviour to benefit everyone.

We’ll certainly look forward with optimism to an uncertain year ahead.

It’s one of the few things absolutely within our control.


Andrew McFarlan is Managing Director of Pink Elephant Communications in Glasgow.

You can read his full profile here.


Photos in Change communication blog by Pink Elephant Communications.
Change communication blog edited by Colin Stone.

Change communication blog

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