Communicating unpopular decisions is a task that all leaders will tackle at some point in their career. In a recent workshop, I was asked for tips to do this with greater confidence and skill. I wanted to share my answer here so you could benefit also.
I have six ideas to help you prepare for and deliver these potentially unpopular or negative messages.
Once the decision has been made, share it with others; even if it is unpleasant news. Procrastination won’t make the news any better, and the longer you wait the more anxiety will grow and perhaps gossip will begin. Once there is gossip around the situation, your communication job gets even harder. Once you have a decision and needed information, rip off the band-aid and share the decision.
See their position
Yes, you have a decision to deliver, but you will be more successful in delivering it if you understand the position, perspective and concerns of your audience first. Think about what you think they will be thinking, anticipate their concerns and worries and address them as best you can in your communication. You won’t know all their concerns, but the more you address those you do recognize upfront, the easier and more effective your communication will be.
Describe the bad decision clearly. Be careful not to vacillate or leave openings for possible changes that don’t exist. Describe the decision, what it means and what the next steps are. You don’t need to be blunt (and if you have worked to understand their position you likely won’t be), but you owe it to people to be clear on the decision, even if it is unpopular and unpleasant.
You already know this will be one of those unpopular decisions, so you know there will be resistance. Most people don’t want to deal with or acknowledge the resistance, which is a bad idea. Just like the pressure builds in a can of soda when you shake it; if you don’t acknowledge the resistance to the decision or change, the resistance will continue to build. You don’t have to have all the answers or agree with the resistance to give people a chance to share it. Some of the energy that the resistance creates will be reduced simply by allowing it to surface and be shared.
Make it a true conversation
Too often unpopular decisions are announced in an email, or quick announcement, without the chance for people to ask questions and respond. The best way to help people understand the decision (and to use the advice above) is to create a real conversation. That doesn’t mean sharing the decision and then simply asking for questions; it means creating time and space and encouraging questions and conversation.
Talk about the future
When you help people see the future, you may help them move past the unpopular decision and see the value in the future after that decision. This isn’t a magic pill or a guarantee, but as you help people see the future, they will begin to move towards it, getting past the decision itself.
These actions likely won’t transform an unpopular decision into a joyful one – but they will help you and your group move past the decision to a future that can be more successful.
Communicating unpopular or difficult decisions is just one of the challenges leaders face. If you are looking for a more complete way to build your skills and confidence as a leader and would like some unexpected ways to help you do that, join me for our From Manager to Remarkable Leader learning experience. This two-day session is packed with insights and opportunities to learn from your peers too. Learn more, find dates, and get registered here.
If you are looking for a low-risk way to try this workshop for your organization, check this out today.