The dilemma of sharing bad news
Leaders are often the messenger and sometimes the creator of bad news. While the saying goes “Don’t shoot the messenger” unfortunately that is exactly what some employees want to do when they hear bad news.
Bad news can be of different proportions and impact. It could range from mass lay offs and salary cuts to asking someone to work over weekends or asking a low performer to leave. Often the manager may have taken the decision due to circumstances or business needs. At other times the decision may be taken by someone else and the manager is expected to deliver it to the team. At such times leaders often feel uncomfortable with doing the job because at a human level they may not want to impact another human being. Often managers anticipate a negative reaction from the team or are uncomfortable dealing with emotional outbursts. Some managers avoid sharing bad news or delegate it to someone else. Some try to mask it with jargon or logic. At the same time there are a few who handle it with finesse .
Why is it important to get good at sharing bad news:
As a manager it is part of your job and it will be a rare manager who will go through a career without sharing bad news with their team. When you are sharing bad news you are not just sharing the information and repercussions with people but also making them go through a mental and emotional experience. It is important that you manage this well because:
- Managing the emotional impact: When people hear information they don’t like the response is a change in emotions. If these emotions are not managed and respected it can have lasting and often fatal impact. People can go into depression, can bad mouth you and the organisation or even take it to the media.
- Ensuring the message is correctly conveyed: When you share news that people don’t want to hear people often hear it through the filter of what they do want to hear.It it thus important that you ensure that the news that people understand is correct and factual.
How to get good at sharing bad news
Start with your self
- Understand what the message is in totality and the impact: Before you go out and share the news be sure you have understood what it means, how it impacts the team and what will change in the organisations, relationship and process dynamics. If you are unsure of an aspect make sure you get clarity. The worst thing that can happen is to be caught with half information in the face of an emotional storm.
- Evaluate your feeling: How you feel about the message will get converted in to what you communicate to the team. This does not mean that if you dislike the message or disagree with it you hide the fact or pretend otherwise. The simple act of acknowledging your feelings is a staring step to understand how you stand with it. This could be something that you havent decided by still have to convey to the team.
- Anticipate emotions and have a plan: Try putting yourself into the recipient shoes and think how they may react. Most times you will end up thinking of worst case scenarios. Think of how you could address and work with the different emotions that people may portray. If you were in the recipients shoes how would you have liked your concern addressed in the face of the situation. Remember that most times people react not to the news but how they feel about the news.
In the discussion:
- Be open and honest: In the face of bad news honesty is generally the best policy. People appreciate that they be told the truth without having to find out that the news is worse than they anticipated. If you anticipate tough times, tell them. If you feel bad about what is happening, tell them. If you need support to find alternate options, tell them.
- Acknowledge emotions and listen: If there is an emotional impact acknowledge and respect the person going through it. Listen with respect and patience . If however the person seems too distraught to have a dialogue ask then to take a break and then meet them out of the situation. Stay calm and respectful throughout the discussion.
- Look at win-win: Be genuinely interested in finding alternate solutions if possible. Look at helping laid off employees find another job. Look at making working on weekends fun.
- Give it time: Don’t expect the discussion to end and get over quickly. Ensure if people want to come back and clarify facts or discuss concerns you are available with the same patient, calm and approachable demeanour.
- Own it: Remember at all times that as a manager you are responsible to get the team through the tough time. You owe them the time and effort to make the most of the circumstances. You may not control the decision but how your team gets through the situation will be impacted by how you help them deal with the news.