Sometimes unexpected events occur, difficult decisions are made, and external events cloud the future. It is the leaders job to navigate in these waters and communicate about these events and outcomes; even if the message is unpleasant and uncomfortable.
This may happen in the form of a conversation needed with one person or with an entire group, team, or even an entire organization. While the critical elements are the same in all these circumstances, in this article I will talk about this from the perspective of sharing a big, tough, and surprising message with a larger group.
Here are five things to keep in mind:
Delivering hard and surprising messages isn’t something most people look forward to, and therefore it is human nature to wait, to procrastinate, or even to rationalize that we “want to wait until we have all the answers before we make any announcements.” This might work; yet often people know something is up, and if they have any inkling that change or “earth-shattering” news is coming, they are guessing and gossiping about what it will be.
Remember that gossip is like a mushroom – it grows in the dark. The longer we leave people in the dark, the longer they will be left to their own devices; creating anxiety, concern and negative speculation. The remedy? Share what you know as soon as you can. If you don’t have all the answers or information, let them know you will share it as soon as you can.
Speak From Their Perspective
Remember that as a leader you probably know more about this news than they do, and you likely have a different perspective than they will have. In order for any communication to be successful (especially one as fraught with challenge as these are), it must be effectively received by your audience.
If you want your earth-shattering news to be effectively received you must communicate from their perspective, addressing and acknowledging their worries and concerns. Time spent thinking about the message through their eyes and adjusting the message and words based on that is critical to your success.
Be Honest and Caring
You must tell the truth about the situation, whatever it is and regardless of how difficult it might be. That doesn’t mean you have to be overly direct or matter-of-fact. Remember that your goal of being direct might be seen as tactless or blunt by others. Yes, be honest, but also be caring in the way you deliver the message. If you remember the point above about perspective, you will likely be more careful and caring about your delivery.
Provide Time For Questions
Good communication is a two-way street; so thinking that you have effective communication because you have delivered your message clearly isn’t enough.
Share the news.
Ask for questions and concerns, thoughts and feelings.
This will improve the chance that you have clearly communicated because you can allay misplaced concerns, overcome misunderstandings, and give people a chance to weigh in.
While this will always be helpful; if the earth-shattering news has significant impact on individuals and their working situation, this is even more important.
Schedule a Followup
In the kinds of communication we are talking about there will likely be an emotional response. And if there is, asking for comments and questions immediately as you finish won’t be enough. Recognize that people will need the time to process the message; and that their questions will become more clear with a bit of time and reflection.
When you know this will be the case, schedule a second chance for conversation a day or so after the initial communication. Let people know immediately that you want that time and what the timing for it will be. Also, allow individuals time and space to come to you individually, so you can help them understand and process the information.
When you come for this follow-up, your goal is to ask and listen, not bring a new PowerPoint deck to this meeting. Be open, patient and willing to allow people to ask, vent, share concerns and more.
Sharing this kind of news isn’t easy, and it comes with the territory of being the leader. When you apply the ideas in this article, it won’t change the news, but it will improve the chances that message will be received and accepted, and at least as importantly, will allow people to move past the message, manage their stress and anxiety and maintain their productivity.