“Yes… the Bottom-Line is No” – Delivering Bad News in a Productive Way

It’s a requirement in almost every position in every business.  No one enjoys it, and we all feel uncomfortable when the time comes, but delivering bad news in a productive way is one of the most important communication tests we as leaders face.  It’s tough to do, but maintaining your ethical and forward-focused position, whether communicating up or down, internally or externally, can mean the difference between success or failure for your company’s culture and it’s bottom line.

There are hundreds of guides out there on rules you can follow, but achieving real and consistent success is about knowing why you are doing it the way you are and adjusting to the unique needs of every situation…

Self-Connection:  Understand and Believe in your Position

Know why what you are doing is right and know exactly what the impact will be to your listener.  You can draw strength in your position and as a result, confidence in the way you deliver it by taking the time to really think things through – gather the facts, uncover what’s behind them and look at all the options on the table.  Be absolutely sure of why you hold the position you do.  If you’re not convinced, you’ll never convince anyone else.

Other-Connection: Communicating from their Point of View

Just because you’re sensitive to the opposing point of view doesn’t mean giving up your own, but it does mean you have to talk about your point of view while taking theirs into account.  What action do you really want or need your listener to take?  What exists in their world that’s going to make what you are asking tough? What exists in their world that might add some positive energy to the change?  Then address both as if you were in their seat and make it the core of your message.

 Connection through Trust:  Speed, Solutions and Silver Linings

Don’t surprise people. Don’t delay. And, don’t deceive.  The key to your success is to build trust in what you’re saying and why. Surprises, delays and deception kill trust.  Be honest about where things are while also being prepared to offer solid next steps that are achievable and positive for you, the business, and especially for your listener.  Set the present bar, but stay future-focused in a way that offers hope and builds trust in shared goals.

Connecting as a Leader

Leaders don’t seek compliance. Rather, they seek to drive commitment.  Respect, dignity and honesty are the foundation of that kind of a relationship, but it generally takes more.  Don’t be afraid to make promises about your own performance and then follow through (always!).  Involve yourself, as well as your listener, in the solution and lead the change you need through consistent example rather than command and control.

It’s never going to be easy, but acknowledging a bad situation – first to yourself and then to others is the mature and necessary approach. By proceeding in a respectful, fact-based, and forward-facing way, based in your listener’s reality, you will be more likely to accomplish the change you’re driving for in a productive way.