No doubt, bad news has been the norm lately, and you may have already had to be be the bearer of it more than once. As a leader, especially a new leader, the last thing you want to do is deliver bad news to your employees, who may assume that you are somehow responsible for it. Unfortunately, you will have to make unpopular decisions, enforce changes that are initially seen as negative, and share information that has the potential to hurt morale.
However, it’s not all doom-and-gloom. You can be the bearer of bad news, and still protect your relationships with employees and their morale, even if you must have difficult conversations virtually. Here’s how.
Before You Meet With Employees …
- Put things in perspective. How bad is it really? As a new leader, you may be quick to assume the worst or believe that the sky is falling, especially if the situation is entirely new to you. However, think about the times in your life when you thought something was really bad, but with time, you came to understand that it wasn’t as bad as you thought or that it actually led to something good. Put the issue into perspective and calm yourself before you speak to employees.
- Think about the whole picture. The situation may be bad, but is it all bad? If you frame it as only negative from the start, the chances of you (or anyone else) finding a silver lining is slim. Before you deliver the message, make sure you are seeing it from every angle first.
- Don’t wait. Procrastination doesn’t make it better, and it usually makes it worse. Share what you know, when you know it.
When Delivering the News …
- Acknowledge the bad, but also point out the good. I am not suggesting that you sugarcoat the news or make things seem better than they are. I am suggesting, however, that you help people see the full picture – warts, scars and possibilities too. Your goal is to communicate the message clearly and help the team move past it. Without the full perspective, it will be more difficult for employees to move forward.
- Stop talking and let people ask questions. Make your remarks and share the news, and then be quiet. Often, the longer you talk, the worse you will make people feel. Understanding and acceptance comes from conversation, not from listening. Let people ask questions about how the news affects them.
- Allow people to vent. People may be angry, upset and frustrated. Offer them the opportunity to air those feelings, without fear of being punished somehow. While it may be uncomfortable for you at first, when negative emotions remain bottled up, they become bigger, worse and more explosive, so allowing employees to share their concerns is better in the long run. Don’t try to justify, explain or “fix” the situation. Just let them talk and listen carefully.
- Focus on the future. The news is out and the facts are the facts. None of that can be changed now. Remind them that they have no control over what happened; however, they can influence how things go from this point forward. Stay enthusiastic and optimistic about what the future holds, and don’t allow employees to dwell on the past. That’s how you will motivate people to recover and move on.