Tuesday, September 25, 2012

How to Give Potentially Bad News

Lately as a supervisor I have had to give potentially bad news. Throughout our lives we have to give "bad news" to people. As a leader, it is tricky of how to deliver bad news. At times, you need to hold back your own emotions on the news, but also validate how this change or information impacts the team.

First: I was thinking of the phrase "potentially bad news." You first have to decide if this is actually bad news. I might think it is bad, but will my audience think it is bad? If it is only me who thinks it is bad, then I need to deal with it myself.

Second: You are confident the audience (your team, your family, your friends) will consider this bad news. Now you have to come up with a game plan. There are several tactics I have taken.
  • Downplay the news. This seldom is fully successful but might take some of the bite out of the news.
  • Distract. Tell the news but then change the subject.
  • Validate & Empathize. I think this always has to be an ingredient. It, however, cannot be overused and has to be coupled with "how are we moving on from here."
  • Donuts & O.J. Couple something good with the bad news. This back-fired on one agency. Everytime they had to tell people bad news, they brought a ton of food to the meeting. The workforce came to associate food with bad news.
  • Fictional Horrible News. You can tell them untrue bad news. For example, if you have to tell your staff that they have to sign-in and out of the office everyday, tell them they are are going to be given gps devices so you can track them. Okay that one is a little far-fetched. I have seen kids use this tactic on parents. There is the classic letter that was sent by a college girl to her parents stating: she moved across the country, married into some cult, got a tattoo, etc etc. Then at the end of the letter she writes, no I actually am just failing math.
  • Have a Plan. This is probably one of the most successful tactics I have had. If there is a change or some bad news, how are you going to weather this information? What is your plan moving forward? Have the team come up with some plans. This should be coupled with some accurate amount of empathy and validation.
  • Don't Say Change is Opportunity! That translation is wrong anyway. At least that is what I read.
  • Radical Acceptance. Teach people the DBT term. It means figure-out what you can change and not change. Change the things you can and find a way to accept then ones you cannot change. This is very similar to the Serenity Prayer.
  • Be supportive. If you are a strong leader, people will look to you. There are few leaders who I would follow into a raging inferno, but they do exist. I feel like my team would follow me blindly into a charge. I do not take that trust lightly. That is a big responsibility.

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