“There’s no good way of saying this guys, so I’ll just go ahead and say it” were the nervous words that came out of my mouth after a few awkward moments of not saying a thing and feeling weak in the knees. It was probably my 3rd assignment as a Manager and I had gathered my whole team in a big conference room. Maybe it wasn’t that big, but it certainly felt that way.
They were followed by more awkward silence and then I just said:
“The Company has decided to ehm…eh…well, the Company, not me of course, is taking away your home office privileges. And it’s right, for the Company. You need to be more productive.” which of course only cause an even more prolonged silence that later became sullen contempt.
I caused that. Not the Company of course though I was acting on direct orders from my own Manager at that time, a Manager I will always remember for one thing: she never gave me any coaching, advice or preparation whatsoever. She just gave me the message I was supposed to deliver and sent me off, waiting for my confirmation that the message had indeed been delivered.
The thing with bad news is not just that no one likes giving or receiving them. It’s the fact that if you are the one giving them, sometimes they stick and become part of the perception others have of you. Even if you’re kind enough to try and make them sound better, bad news will always be bad news and if you’re the one delivering them chances are nobody will care that you are the just the messenger.
My Manager was a messenger herself. It had not been her idea to cut off our HO privilege actually but she never told me so, I only found out later through a colleague. She had been asked to cut it off for everyone, including Managers reporting to her so all she had done was set up a 5′ conference call where she stumbled through the communication as badly as I later did, gave no reasons nor explanations and just said “go tell your people”.
As I look back to that moment I see what I said wrong, which was basically everything that came out of my mouth at that moment, very much like she did.
Here, let me highlight it for you.
“The Company has decided to ehm…eh…well (1), the Company, not me of course (2), is taking away your home office privileges. And it’s right, for the Company (3) . You (4) need to be more productive.”
I only painted red the 4 things that went really, really bad there. Let’s go one by one.
1. Never doubt when communicating bad news. One thing about bad news? You HAVE to communicate them. I have yet to meet the person that loves doing so. When you are a Manager or a Leader, you just have to communicate them every now and then. You don’t need to be cool about it, you don’t need to show something you’re not feeling…but you can show that facts are facts and if the news you’re sharing are bad, then so be it. Adding doubts to it only creates a gap between the actual bad news and yourself, which only leads to more doubts about you as a Manager or as a Leader.
2. Own it. You are the Company as much as they are the Company, only…you are their boss. Even if you don’t agree with what you’re communicating. Trying to show dissent won’t make it better for you. It doesn’t matter if what you’re saying is bad enough that they look disappointed or worse. You are the Company. Don’t make the mistake of trying to paint it differently because at that precise moment it is you who is communicating with them, you who’s showing up and telling them what’s wrong and that makes you the bearer of the bad news. Separating yourself from the Company doesn’t make you less of a messenger, and it definitely doesn’t make you the good guy.
3. Don’t pick sides. It is always right to explain to those you manage how things work in the Company. It is also always right to work with them to make things better, and the Company will always hold you dearest if you also defend it’s interests. When giving bad news you don’t need to defend one position or the other. If the Company’s given the bad news, there’s probably reasons out there that you can share with them, explain the whys and hows that made the Company do whatever they did that caused the bad news. The one thing you shouldn’t do with that is try to explain that if it’s right for the Company, it’s right or try using that to show you think differently. It sounds too much like what parents tell their children: “Because I say so”. And we all know how that discussion ends, right?
4. Be with them, not against them. As said yo don’t need to agree with what the Company is saying or doing. You don’t even need to like it, but you do need to communicate it. Maybe one of the best things you can do is take those news as an employee would, and when communicating them be both parts of that communication: the one that sends it out (The Company) and the ones that receives it (those who work for the Company). Don’t try to separate from them but rather join them even more tightly. This is the moment when they need you the most. Be one of them, lead from within and show them bad news is just that, bad news.
Remember we are only as good as the words we say and the actions we do. It doesn’t matter it’s bad news, you get to pick your words, and be there with them and for them. If you share instead of just blurt out, if you show them you care instead of just informing the you’ll be surprised on how well they can handle even the worst possible news.
Best way to deliver bad news? Just keep it simple, share and move on.
Also published on Medium.