There is a monster on the loose. It may be hiding under your desk or be tucked away in an email. It might sneak up during a conference call or jump in front of you in the hallway on your way to a meeting. The monster is bad news, and it can be nasty. Bad news comes in plenty of different disguises: missed deadlines, failed negotiations, dashed hopes and general disappointment — just to name a few.
Do I really love bad news? I do have a thing for monsters, but no one really loves bad news. That said, I depend on balanced news in order to stay informed and keep Marxent humming. I’m an optimist and while I always hope for mostly good news, in reality news should strike a positive balance — 75 percent good, 25 percent not so good — but not be always 100 percent positive. Yes, there is value in sharing a little bit of bad news at times. It makes the good news sound better, reveals potential issues before they become problems, and keeps everyone honest.
Bottom line: It’s hard to believe good news when there is no counterpoint. It comes down to a case of credibility. And while it may be hard to admit that something isn’t going as expected, Bad News can have a positive effect when shared early and clearly. The prompt sharing of Bad News can keep small issues from becoming unconquerable, guide the setting of expectations, and help you more effectively lead through the building of trust among team members.
No matter how great you are at your job, sometimes things don’t go as expected. There are some high performing individuals, very smart people, who have an orientation toward perfectionism and protecting a team from the knowledge that something may not have gone as planned. In my experience, this can be extremely damaging. Eventually the news comes out and if there is no chance to prepare for it, the consequences can be amplified. The ability to share bad news while maintaining calm and enabling a team to continue pushing forward demonstrates one of the essentials of leadership and helps team members to stand apart from the crowd. Have some bad news to share? Here are some tips on how to make it work for you.
Be honest with yourself and with your team members. Bad News is a great opportunity for open communications and group problem solving. When something goes wrong, we often want to run and hide. Don’t do it! It’s one thing to spin news, it’s another to sweep it under a rug. Also, instead of casting blame, describe the situation. Be careful about pinning a failure on an individual. If individual performance is related to the bad news, don’t put it in an email. Have followup conversations to ensure that there is awareness by all of the people involved. If not, people may never even know that you believe them to be the source of a failure. Communication is key.
Bad News isn’t always really all that bad. Sometimes it’s a minor disappointment that is blown out of proportion or taken out of context. The best way to share “bad news” is to keep it in context. Don’t go overboard in the sharing of bad news, and don’t single it out. Unless the bad news is brand new and of such an urgency that it needs to be shared immediately, bad news should be confined to regular communications as part of a mix with good and neutral news. I like to use what I call the “75/25 Rule” in all of my communications. If possible, 75 percent of news should be good news, but that last 25 percent should raise awareness of what might not be going quite so well.
The other thing to remember when sharing bad news is that you should be prepared to offer possible solutions and/or ask for help. You don’t have to have THE solution (often times overcoming bad news will be a team effort), but you should have some ideas on possible courses of action. You can also use the sharing of bad news as an opportunity to ask for help or advice.
Ultimately, every human endeavor is going to have its ups and its downs. By trying to minimize the bumps in the road, you end up doing a disservice to yourself, your boss, and the organization. In the end, the higher-ups will appreciate your candor, willingness to take responsibility, and creativity in coming up with possible solutions. And that’s some good news right there.
Beck Besecker is CEO and co-founder of Marxent.
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