Part 2: Tips to make change communication highly effective

So, whenever you talk about change (or any other “charged” topic for that matter) you are talking to a very mixed set of personalities which are feeling and thinking on three different levels:

The rational brain: What is he/she saying, what is the change and why is it necessary; does the argument appear logical and consistent? Is it consistent with my own beliefs?

The crocodile:Is my survival/territory in danger?

The monkey: Is he/she more dominant than me, is he/she with or against me, does he/she care or not care about me, should I follow him/her or not (if you don’t trust the messenger, you will not trust the message)?

Below is an illustration of what I call the emotional/rational pyramid:

emotional/rational pyramid

If you don’t send the right message on all three levels then you and your proposed change are in trouble. What we see is that most communication is conducted on a rational level and we aren’t aware of what is happening at a monkey and crocodile level. Although we’ve described these three parts of the brain as three separate brains, in reality, they are highly interconnected and form one organic whole. They all influence each other. If you hear a “bad” argument you will experience negative emotions. The reverse is also true:  if you feel bad you tend to hear “bad” arguments.

Over the last few centuries, we have placed so much emphasis on rational thinking that a lot of us seem to have forgotten that for 300 million years we have been mostly emotional beings. The rational part of our brain has only existed for 2.5 million years, a very short time given our 100s of millions of years of evolution.

Talking to all three brains: The essential messages to get across when communicating change

Reptilian level: In any case, you will survive. If you cannot give this message, then make clear what exactly will happen if someone will not be able to survive in that particular team, department of organization. Give perspective for survival within another environment.

Emotional level: Although the road may be difficult I am there for you to help wherever I can, I will lead and facilitate you, I care about you and we are connected, you can trust me. This does not mean that I will avoid communicating difficult messages; on the contrary, I will be honest.

Rational level: These are the rational and logical reasons why changes are being made… Let’s discuss how you can integrate them within your own set of convictions, beliefs, and values.

In the next 2 parts, I will describe more detailed what it means talking to the crocodile and the monkey.


  • Coaching with the Brain in Mind. David Rock and Linda J. Page, Wiley 2009.
  • Change Your Brain, Change Your Life: The Breakthrough Program for Conquering Anxiety, Depression, Obsessiveness, Anger, and Impulsiveness. Daniel G. Amen, Potter/Ten Speed/Harmony, 1999.