The art of delivering bad news
The first rule of thumb is that you cannot just hide under your desk. You cannot just wish the bad news away or refuse to talk about it. Bad news has a habit of traveling fast and generally in the form of rumors. Rumors travel at light speed when there is a hint of negativity in the air. Leaders earn their stripes in these moments. If you want to gain or maintain trust, you will be best served to get out in front and speak the truth. The whole truth and nothing but. Facts are critical, not opinions. No one wants to have sunshine blown up their skirts or pants at this point. This is time to cut the BS and get to the point.
So how do you deliver it?
- Delivery is key: The message you give, in your words and body language, is all on the line. Your delivery needs to be in a manner that is consistent with your values and actions. If you are trying to be something you are not in this moment, the message will fall on deaf ears.
- Everything has a time and place: There is a passage in Book of Ecclesiastes that is fitting Ė There is time and place for everything Ė and this is very apt to the delivery of news you will be giving. You want to communicate the information as soon as possible; however, you have to create the right setting. If you wait too long, people tend to feel you are hiding information from them and that creates animosity. Pick your spot when and where to deliver this news carefully.
- Know your audience: The message has to benefit those for whom itís intended. Itís very possible you may have to deliver this news to a wide audience. Choose the appropriate words that will have the most reach to each person.
- Heads up: Personally, I know with larger organizations it is hard to give each person a personal warning for what's to come. E-mail has a broader reach, but to me, you can lose a lot of the personal touch in a cold, sterile e-mail. If possible, tailor the e-mail to each person and make it personal. This is not a time to lose your human touch.
- Be prepared: This is not the time to shoot from the hip. Consider this, how would you like to hear this news? Stick to the facts; be confident in your delivery.
- Give it straight: Tell the truth, all of it, not just the parts you think will be well received. If in these moments you cannot tell the truth, you will never have the respect and trust of your people. Be objective, fair and complete as possible. Donít downplay whatís happening Ö that is patronizing to many. This is the time to work with humility in your actions and words.
- Compassion: Above all else, remember that everyone is human. This is going to have an effect on people in different ways. We can share with others the fact that news is difficult, but one of the worst ways a leader can go down the wrong path here is to say, 'I know how you feel' ... no, sorry, you do not. You can empathize, you can offer compassion. However, there is no way you can know how another is taking in the news and internalizing those emotions. Each one of us feels and expresses are emotions differently. We can offer our own emotions as way to connect with others, but we cannot feel their emotions for them.
- Be a dealer of hope: You never want to make promises here, but you do want to leave people a reason to believe that their work will and does have meaning. Great leaders see the possibilities when others may see only failure. Do not let your staff lose hope. At moments like this, hope is really what people need.
- Set the table for action: When the bad news is being given, you tend to have the attention of the room more than ever. So now is the time to set the expectations of what is to come and give each person a mission to follow in the wake of the news.
- Repeat that? Yes ... you will need to repeat the news. I know this sounds harsh, but even though your audience maybe paying attention, they are some who will drift into their own abyss of self and miss parts of the message that were perhaps very critical to their own work. Set up time with key individuals to ensure they have a clear understanding what has occurred and how to move forward.
Jennifer Olney is the Founder of #bealeader and CEO of GingerConsulting. Jennifer is a volunteer mentor as well with #beamentor and you can connect directly with her on her mentor page here.