One of the toughest parts of our job as leaders is sharing bad news with our team. The only thing worse? Delivering that news poorly. In this week’s post, I’ll share some tips for how to make the experience a more positive one.
- Hold your story lightly and keep perspective. Begin by remembering that you don’t know how every person on your team will react to the new information. While we can guess accurately in some cases, in others we might be way off. This may seem counter-intuitive, but it helps to remember that things may not play out as poorly as you are imagining. Considering this will help you to deliver the information with a balanced mind-set. Replacing the idea of “bad news” with “new information” is a good way to start the mental reframe.
- Pause for presence. Even though you are the leader, you’re also human. When receiving bad news or choosing to take an action that could be perceived as bad news, don’t forget that you will have emotions about it as well. While I firmly believe that having feelings in front of your team isn’t an issue—and is in fact necessary to be seen as congruent and trustworthy—it is also worth giving yourself time to process privately. A few minutes, if not a few days, to consider your response will ensure you are not reacting from fear. And remaining open and curious will go a long way in managing your actions and supporting those of your team.
- Deliver a “warning shot.” No one likes bad surprises. Imagine opening a piece of mail informing you that owe a large sum of money that you weren’t planning on spending. Painful, right? When delivering bad news to your team, open with a statement that alerts the group that they are going to hear something that may be less than savory. This provides a moment for everyone to become present. While starting with, “I hate to be the bearer of bad news,” isn’t the best approach, there is some wisdom behind it; the listener knows something is coming. After your warning shot, give a slight pause, and then deliver the new information directly.
- Build trust. Being fully revealed about what is occurring, even when it isn’t great news—especially when it isn’t great news—is a major opportunity to build trust with the people around you. While it is tempting to hide the details to avoid your own discomfort and to control the discomfort of others, this never goes over well. People can smell a lack of transparency a mile away. Now, the bad news isn’t even the issue, a lack of trust is. Instead, deliver the news directly and completely.
- Provide processing time. Give your team a few moments to process what has just been said and acknowledge that everyone processes at a different pace. It is likely that one person’s immediate response will be to search for solutions. Hold for a few minutes and let everyone have space to blurt some comments and clear the air. Remember that you’ve had a few minutes, hours, or days to sit with the information; they are hearing it for the first time.
- Take action. After your team has had time to process, it is time to take action. One of those actions is to remind your team of their strengths, and that they’ve managed adversity before. Then, define all of the next steps clearly and execute the plan when it is time to do so. Don’t wait and circle around solutions for long. The new information will continue to create anxiety, and the longer that plans are delayed, the more stories will take over.