How To Tell Your Team Bad News

How To Tell Your Team Bad News

How To Tell Your Team Bad News 

By Mark Wager

The true test for a Leader doesn’t happen when things are going well, a Leader is tested during times of uncertainty when things are going bad. It's when people  look towards our Leaders for clarity, direction and hope and for the Leaders this can be difficult. I know many Leaders who are part of businesses that are struggling and this has meant that very difficult decisions have had to be made including decisions on letting people go. Nowadays  Leaders are seeking advice on how to convey bad news to their teams. In this weeks article I will share with you some  tips and techniques that I passed onto my clients and leaders who have found themselves in these difficult situations of having to tell their teams bad news.

You can’t always make everyone happy 

The first thing you need to remember is that it’s not the role of a Leader to make everyone happy. Don't get me wrong, it’s always a nice thing to want to make everyone happy but if you think about the true role of a Leader it’s unlikely to be achieved. The main function of a Leader and the one thing they need to do above all else is to put the needs of the many ahead of the needs of the few. This can be a challenge because there are a lot of people who will also act in their own best interest. When those interests don’t align with interests of the wider group then there will be disagreements and unhappiness and this is why we need Leaders to lead.

If you look at the countries that have successfully navigated through the coronavirus pandemic, you will find they had leaders that decided to put the needs of the country ahead of any personal needs. Many people have not been happy with the restrictions placed upon them, being in lockdown, the imaoct on businesses, wearing masks etc yet people did so because they understood that any personal sacrifices were for the benefit of the many.

Be authentic 

It’s important that you plan and strategise how you communicate bad news because how you deliver the news will have a dramatic impact not only on your team but also on the future of the business. Despite all the strategy, many of which we will cover shortly, it’s important that you  are authentic. Whatever you say you have to stay true to your values and beliefs, you need to become a better version of yourself. 

Acknowledge the teams concerns and fears 

Too often I see Leaders make the mistake of thinking that the best way of communicating bad news is to remove all the emotion from the decision. This is a mistake. Instead , successful communication is the acknowledgment and management of emotion rather than the absence of emotion. If you know that your team has concerns and fears maybe even a sense of anger then you need to acknowledge those emotions and talk about them before the team does. This benefits you in two ways, firstly it defuses any potential conflict. If you think about it, you can’t get angry with someone who has just told you that it’s ok to feel the way you are feeling. Remember you have to acknowledge the emotions without necessarily agreeing with them and secondly by talking about these concerns and fears you are better placed to control the flow of the meeting.

Understanding is more important than agreement 

When you are talking to people about a scenario in which they have no control over then your focus needs to be making people understand rather than making them agree because  its highly unlikely that people will agree with bad news and all you achieve is giving people false hope which ultimately makes the situation worse. The Leader needs to explain honesty why the decision has been made. In  reality  a lot of these situations mean that while we all aim to make decisions that benefit the wider team unfortunately sometimes the right decisions is not always the best decision for every individual in the team.. Approaching the conversation this way will not only make it easier for you as a Leader but  will take away some of the emotions that people will be feeling.

Give people time 

Everyone processes information differently. While  some people verbalise their thoughts wanting to talk through what’s going on, there will be other people who prefer to internalise their emotions, meaning they require time to process what has been said and they may well have questions but those questions may come after the meeting so it’s important to make sure that the avenues of communication stay open. It’s important to remember that it doesn’t mean that these people are slow it just means that they have a preference for communication and talking openly at a meeting isn’t for everyone so follow up with people, check if they are ok and if they have any further questions 

Silence is deadly 

The last and most important thing a Leader needs to remember about giving bad news is that silence is deadly. There may well be a temptation to avoid talking to people or delay it for a better time but with every word not spoken it will be replaced with rumours and misunderstandings and when they are in place within people’s minds they can be incredibly stubborn to remove. If you stay silent then that says a lot about you as a Leader and it’s not saying anything good.

There are times when a Leader needs to step back but when bad news has be shared then it’s time for a Leader to step forward and take the lead, front up and tell people what is happening and why. Telling people bad news is never easy but that is why we need Leaders, people who we are willing to turn to during these difficult moments and guide us to better times.

About the Author

Mark Wager is a Leadership Coach with over thirty years of managerial experience across a range of industries. A former Broker Sales Manager with a London Finance House and a National Manager for the Ministry of Justice Mark specialises in working with Leaders helping them overcome the barriers, both technical and mental standing between themselves and success.

A strong believer in taking complex leadership & psychological theories and making them accessible to people regardless of their background, education or industry Mark has helped develop Leaders from some of New Zealand’s leading organisations such as Fisher & Paykel, Weta FX, Heartland Bank, NZRL, NZ Netball, NZ Soccer, NZ Basketball, Amnesty Int, Barnardos, Oxfam, Red Cross and many more.

If you are serious about becoming a better Leader then contact Mark today

Posted: Thursday 20 May 2021


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