Communicating Bad News

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We live in a world where bad news is the order of the day. At home, on the road, in the office, with friends in the local pub and even at school. In the work place, I have realized that one of the hardest tasks any manager has is to communicate bad news. In large corporate, it is easy to pass responsibility to others to do the communicating, or use e-mail or notice boards. In one man companies and smaller outfits, the burden squarely falls on the owner’s shoulders.

So what is the best way to tell someone that you have to close down due to financial strain? The best way to tell someone they are fired? The best way to tell your managing director that you are leaving? The best way to say that you were unable to clinch a deal that meant everything for the company?

Develop a culture of communication
Negative news will always be existent and so the best thing is to nurture grounds of dealing with the downside of business before it occurs.

Developing a culture of communication means that information is shared before it is too late. For instance, a marketing executive will constantly be sharing the proposal she/ he is working on to sign up a new client. In these discussions with senior management and colleagues, it will be noticed if something is amiss. That way, it will be dealt with before the main meeting with the client. If still the deal doesn’t go through, the marketing executive will not have such a hard time saying why the client did not sign up.

Don’t personalize issues.

As a proprietor whose company is going under, don’t take it personally. Yours is not the first company to shut down. Neither will it be the last. Be objective in analyzing what caused your downfall. Poor management, competition played dirty, you had some wrong deals that compromised you or you were just not appointed for that business. Just don’t make it personal.

Value your team.
Downsizing affects everybody. When you have to do it as a manager, be human about it and do unto your team members what you would want to be done to you if you were in their shoes. “The company values your input greatly and we will help as much as we possibly can but the company cannot sustain itself through the tough times.” Would make a good opening statement to a redundancy conversation. If you are a good employer, you might be surprised that your team would willingly stay on with you for less pay and fight to steer the company to greater heights.

Be honest.
If for instance you are leaving your employer for a competitor who is offering you more, sooner or later, your boss will find out that you are working for the competition. At your exit interview, if any, be plain but respectful, “I am leaving for better prospects but I am grateful for the opportunity you have continuously given me for contributing to the achievement of the company’s goals. I will be pursuing greater career advancements in the same industry but unfortunately, not within this company”.

What’s the worst that can happen if you dare the status quo?

Is a question I sometimes ask my colleagues when they say I am daring. Sometimes communicating bad news is about saying the very thing that nobody wants to say. The other day we attended a company sponsored training and one of the ice breaking questions had to do with what each person intended to achieve at the end of the training. Tongue in cheek, I mentally asked myself, what’s the worst that can happen? Then I rambled on about how I hoped that it would build my résumé and I would be a great catch for the competition. Holding onto the bad news for the best time does not help anyone. So when it is tough to give the bad news, grab the bull by the horns and charge. What’s the worst that can happen anyway?

Wisdom and tact must reign. 
Contradictory? It might seem so but it is not. Even before you say “kama mbaya, mbaya” (if it’s bad, let it be bad). Wisdom must reign. If our boss comes in moody in the morning and he changes after two cups of coffee, don’t ride in the elevator with him just to tell him that his most valued client pulled out of a million shillings deal last evening. Be wise in knowing how and when you want to communicate the bad news. Lack of wisdom and knowledge is the greatest cause of downfall for mankind.
Don’t be a victim of the same. Tact is knowing that saying, “I need a raise or I quit” will get you out the door faster without a recommendation letter than, “Sir, I appreciate the opportunity to grow with this organization but I feel that we need to work a little extra hard at motivating the team for more of their output.”

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