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4 Ways to Communicate During Transition

Transition can be tricky. Whether it is changing jobs or starting new relationships, that in-between state can leave anyone feeling lost.

Imagine, then, the enormity of transitioning presidencies. Arianne Gallagher, the Director of the Office of Personnel Management’s (OPM) Presidential Management Fellows Program (or the PMF program for short), experienced one of these monumental shifts. During Gallagher’s time at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Office of Performance and Management (OPPM), when Trump won the presidency in November 2016, OMB had to get ready to potentially implement the federal hiring freeze promised during his campaign.

According to Gallagher, OMB eased Trump’s journey to the White House by communicating effectively with his transition team. OMB staffers in the office – many of whom were PMF alums – relied on communication skills that are the foundation of the leadership within the PMF Program, which operates out of OPM’s Center for Leadership Development (CLD). The program provides two-year training and leadership development courses to citizens with recent graduate degrees who work in two-year paid fellowships at federal agencies.

On Wednesday, Gallagher spoke during the NextGen Government Training Summit, an annual two-day professional development event for public servants. Here are four traits Gallagher recommends for navigating any transition, including presidential ones:

1. Assume Positive Intent

Despite working toward common goals, different people often have different needs. Gallagher argues that assuming everyone involved with a project has good intentions increases the chances it will succeed.

“Coming to the table assuming positive intent from everyone involved is one of the best approaches to tackling a problem,” she said. “If you practice this on a frequent basis, it will really help you in your personal and professional life.”

2. Ask Lots of Questions

According to Gallagher, the more questions teammates ask one another, the closer they become. Having that dialogue with teammates not only builds trust, but it also demonstrates everyone shares similar goals.

“You can walk a mile in their shoes,” Gallagher said of asking questions. “Transitions are a perfect time to build interpersonal skills. There is a whole bunch of new people and priorities you have to understand.”

3. Listen More, Talk Less

Gallagher suggests that wanting to have their voices heard can prompt people to talk over their peers. More often, listening can facilitate smoother transitions instead.

“It is an easy way to show respect for someone else,” Gallagher said of listening. “Depending on if you’re extroverted or introverted, this one can be hard.”

4. Build Diversity of Thought

When it comes to opinions, Gallagher proposes the more, the merrier. Frequently, agencies with more thought diversity anticipate and overcome challenges more easily.

“We have different lenses we use to look at problems and situations,” Gallagher said. “If you bring multiple people to the table with different perspectives, that diversity of thought will give you the best arsenal for tackling potential problems.”

The Last Word

With Election Day 2020 coming soon, the first presidential transition in four years may be on the horizon. No matter who wins in November, however, Gallagher says communicating well during transitions is more important than ever.

“This is super important in any professional career, but especially at leadership levels,” she said.

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