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Process: Communicating for Change Part I

“Relationships and conversations are inseparable and influence each other. The manner of engagement — the way we develop a relationship with another person — influences the kind and quality of conversations that we can have with each other, and likewise the conversations we begin to have with each other will influence the kind and quality of our relationships” (Anderson 2012, 14).

When communicative processes and people are deeply intertwined, it is easy to imagine the repercussions of one destructive person in the mix. On the flip side, we can also imagine the positive change that can result when people and processes intermingle for the good of one another.

Communication that influences people to accomplish change together is critical to successful change diffusion. The purpose of communication is to learn potential for collective change through newly built connections. Communicating with this purpose assumes that every person has the agency, or some power, to participate in a movement for change. While not every person might lead the change mission, every person can still become a partner who helps accomplish the change mission. Based on reflections from the change agents in my research, communication that is relationally focused moves people from a present state of collective change potential to a future state of collective change agency. Rather than seeking to empty or rid the world of its problems, change agents intentionally communicate with others to construct a world full of relationships that emanate respect and dignity.

It should be noted that communication strategies vary by context as well as by the personality of the change agent. However, both the desire for change and the process by which change agents seek to execute change are shaped by their lived value for human respect and dignity. With words being one of the primary ways human beings show respect and dignity to one another, it makes sense that the communication strategies used to diffuse change become of utmost importance to the failure or success of a change mission. When change agents diffuse change, they also encounter people who need to learn or unlearn specific ways of thinking or behaving. Such encounters challenge change agents to communicate with others so that they understand new learning and can apply it in their context.

My research reveals that change agents report that their work often takes place under the radar and behind the scenes. Being under the radar meant that change agents not only sought seamless integration alongside their partners, but also did not seek the hero spotlight. The literature places hero leadership in the individual realm, where the focus is on a single person’s behavior or personality so that the individual leader receives credit for success (Zulu 2015). However, it is clear in my research that nonprofit change agents’ preferred mode of operation was to center and highlight the people they served within their respective contexts. By doing so, change agents respected the autonomy and dignity of the people they served while also recognizing that change agents do not hold secret solutions to the problems they seek to solve. In this regard, connecting others to a desired change rests in the ability of nonprofit change agents to draw out the needs and dreams of the people they serve through dialogic spaces.

More to come on dialogic spaces in my next post!


Anderson, Harlene. 2012. “Collaborative Relationships and Dialogic Conversations: Ideas for a Relationally Responsive Practice.” Family Process. 51, no. 1: 8-24.

Zulu, Itabari M. 2015. “TransAfrica as a Collective Enterprise: Exploring Leadership and Social Justice Attentiveness.”The Journal of Pan African Studies.8, no. 9: 26-46.

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