It’s every leader’s or manager’s least favourite task: delivering bad news. Maybe your company is closing one of the offices, or letting some people go. Or you have an employee who isn’t getting the promotion he or she wants, or can’t take an expensive training course.
In any case, your first impulse may be to soften the blow. After all, you’re a caring person, and you’d like to make a difficult situation easier. Generally, you start the conversation by talking about something else. And when it’s time to deliver the news, you try to sugarcoat it.
Few people like to deliver bad news. But the ability to do so with grace and compassion is an essential skill for any leader or manager.
That’s a key tool of a leader who knows how to lead well. When a leader creates and maintains momentum by their ideas, their ingenuity, and their actions, the rest of their team falls naturally into their rhythm. And that’s when the great work is accomplished.
We’ve all had that moment on an airplane where we experience turbulence. Maybe you are rudely awakened by a sudden jolt, or you get up to use the restroom and have to hold onto the back of someone’s seat. Within a few seconds, the pilot’s voice comes over the intercom. What are you listening for? You are listening for reassurance through the uncertainty of turbulence.
With countless concerns over Covid-19 around the world, it’s not just the airline industry that is experiencing a sudden wobble on its normal journey. Many business leaders are asking how they can communicate uncertainty both internally to their teams and externally to their clients — whether it’s about participating in an upcoming conference or delivering on an already signed project. Communicating in the face of uncertainty is a constant leadership challenge.
But in any business, there are times when you are on cloud nine and times when you’re down in the dark. What does a leader have to do when bad news has to be shared?
1. Know his audience
In public speaking, knowing your audience in advance is critical. In times of uncertainty, it’s quintessential, regardless through what channel of communication. Do a thorough strategic analysis of who you are communicating to. What are their concerns, questions, or interests? What do they need an immediate answer to? You might use language such as, “I know many of you may be thinking…” The quicker you can address what’s on their mind, the quicker you will be able to calm them down. If you are not addressing their most pressing interests, they might not even be listening to you.
2. Thorough Research
In times of hardship and stress, it is easier to fall prey to misinformation, which can be especially destructive. Seek out credible sources of information, and read the information fully before distilling it into clear, concise language. Share those links with others, so that they too have a credible resource.
3. Set up specific ‘next steps’
In times of uncertainty, it’s helpful to provide your team with tangible action items. Discussing your own next steps or recommending next steps to your audience gives them a sense of control so they feel like they are contributing to stabilisation. Use language such as, “Here are the steps we are taking” or “Here’s what you can do” to demonstrate action.
Communicating through uncertainty is an essential leadership skill, regardless of whether or not you have a formal leadership role. In fact, the ability to communicate through uncertainty is part of what demonstrates to others your leadership readiness. Use the aforementioned steps to first find your own sense of focus and then allow yourself to transmit that reassurance to others.
4. Speak honestly
You can speak with confidence even without 100% certainty. You can confidently express doubt or uncertainty, while still sounding like you are in control of the situation. You might say, “Reports are still coming in, but what we understand so far is this…” Communicate frequently with your audience, even without news to report, so that they know you are actively following the issue. A fantastic communication expert, Nancy Duarte, wrote an insightful article on this topic several years ago and stated: “People will be more willing to forgive your in-progress ideas if they feel like they’re part of the process.”
You can’t make bad news less painful, but you can deliver it in the most respectful way possible.
There is a real value in providing companies with the tools to carry out regular organisational assessments and this is where Great People Inside comes to your aid. Our online platform offers the best solutions and tools for your company to thrive in every type of industry and any possible situation your organisation may find itself. In terms of lowering your employee turnover rates, we recommend our GR8 Full Spectrum assessment for hiring and 360° Survey for retention. Finding the right talent, the best fit for the job and your organisation can be a very challenging task. It requires deep knowledge of your own organisation’s culture and a keen understanding of the candidate’s personality, strengths, interests, work style and other characteristics. Our technology and solutions will do the work for you, helping you find employees who can flourish and reach the highest performance required to constantly bring your company forward.
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