How do we Communicate Disruptively?

Leaders are expected to take their organizations to unprecedented levels by disrupting themselves, their teams, organizations, and even their industries.  But how can we as leaders better communicate the disruption we need to make?

If you follow this blog, you know that I write extensively about leading disruptive opportunities. We create innovative products and services that customers gladly embrace when we have connected (communicated) so we can collaborate and then create. To create those disruptive products and services we must first disrupt our concept of communication.

The problem is that leadership communication is usually thought of a speaking more than listening. Let’s take a look at 7 elements of traditional communication we need to disrupt to lead disruption.

1. Disrupt your Definition

I said it last week. Communication is not “getting your message across.” That implies a hierarchy of telling, not collaborators who are listening and sharing. Instead, Communication is “negotiating shared meaning.” We work in a world labeled “The Sharing Economy” where money is made by helping people share ideas to create experiences, products, and services that people value immensely. From open source software to shared social media, today’s world thrives on sharing.

Disruptive Challenge: Re-examine your concept of connecting and communicating. Are you still trying to tell others what to do or to create an environment of sharing? 

2. Disrupt your Attitude

Behind everything we say or do there is an attitude based on a belief or value. To disrupt, we must be willing to break the rules, stray from the status quo and be willing to do what has never been done before. We cannot play it safe.

But how do we express that attitude without being perceived as arrogant or insensitive? Disruption begins with a desire for something much better. It is an infectious attitude derived from a futuristic vision. It is not to be confused with destruction, anarchy or rebellion. No, disruption is saturated with opportunities for everyone, not a selfish destroying of the present for self-interest.

Disruptive Challenge: Re-examine your attitude. Are you looking to disrupt for selfish reasons or to help many find new opportunities?

3. Disrupt your Words

Words do not hold meaning. People do. To illustrate this, think about how people have different meanings for the same word and how they have different words for the same thing. A submarine sandwich is also known as a grinder, hero, hoagie or Italian sandwich. In some areas, asking for a Coke is simply asking for a soft drink while in other areas it is asking for the brand name Coke.

From the time that Clayton Christianson coined the word disruption, people have misinterpreted it as destruction, a different definition. The lack of uniformity toward the word has led many to demand that I discontinue using the word. Instead, I believe it is worth helping people understand Clayton’s definition. Notice that lists four definitions for the word disruption.

  1. to cause disorder or turmoil in: The news disrupted their conference.
  2. to destroy, usually temporarily, the normal continuance or unity of; interrupt: telephone service was disrupted for hours.
  3. to break apart: to disrupt a connection.
  4. to radically change (an industry, business strategy, etc.), as by introducing a new product or service that creates a new market

Disruptive Challenge:  Introduce the word “disruptive” to your vocabulary. Use it. Help your team use the term disruption in a way where everyone shares the same positive vision for a shared opportunity. 

4. Disrupt your Thoughts

Disruption happens when we dare to think differently. We don’t just accept the status quo but actively spend our time thinking about how we can create what others consider impossible. This is a radical change from about 85-90% of the workforce that are content following.

Disruptive Challenge: To disrupt the thoughts of your team, help them follow these steps to change their thinking.

  1. Show them the opportunities for disruption. Within this, show them how disruption is already happening and how it benefits those that make the disruption.
  2. Help them understand how doing the impossible is possible. Help them see that “impossible” is simply “not yet having the resources to do it.”
  3. Adjust their thinking from “No!” to “Maybe if . . .” Help them identify and search for those resources.
  4. Last but maybe most important, share with them how this is a team project and everyone is critical to the ultimate success. Hearing “We” rather than “You” or “Me”  will change their thinking.

5. Disrupt your Listening

Listening is just as important as speaking. In fact, it might even be more important because what we hear will dictate what we say and do. It is a great leadership strategy for disruption because we listen (watching is a form of listening) to the trends to forecast the opportunities for radical changes. To disrupt, we must use all of our senses to determine where and how we can disrupt.

Yet many do a poor job of listening because they are so focused on speaking so they can look good.

Disruptive Challenge: Disrupt your speaking to listen first. Build a culture of listeners who have watched the trends and speak only when they have a compelling thought about the disruptive opportunities. 

6. Disrupt your Behavior

Disruption is not just a vision and definitely more than a wish or a hope. Disruption is actively working to radically change the world. Disruptors not only think but behave differently. That is critical because most of the communication is seen, not heard. Do you back up your words with action? Does your team sense this is a collaboration or do they see it as a dictate? Are their ideas given serious consideration? Are they even allowed to express their ideas? Are they compensated as collaborators or employees?

Disruptive Challenge: Disrupt your behavior to match your disruptive words and vision.

7. Disrupt your Story

Every leader tells a story. Some tell a story of their personal success without hardly mentioning those that assisted. Others tell stories of success but it isn’t disruptive. They have simply followed the old formulas to stay significant. While that is good, it isn’t disruptive. Very few tell a disruptive story where they create a new market and show how even the least paid employee was vital to their team.

Disruptive Challenge: Tell your disruptive story but tell it in a way that you are not the hero. Be humble. Then tell other stories of disruptions and how your team can be the next disruptive story.  



Loren Murfield, Ph.D.

I help individuals and organizations think bigger to reach higher, doing what many never thought possible. Some of this disruption comes from understanding the power of language to create or destroy that I learned in my graduate communication studies and teaching college for many years.  The rest of this comes from disrupting my career every decade of my adult life and helping clients disrupt their worlds for the last 15 years as an executive coach. Contact me today to learn how you can implement this process in your organization.

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