This article was motivated by advice we gave to an IT manager breaking bad news to their team. The piece of bad news was that project go-live was coming up, and in the month leading towards go-live date, all members of the project team would be required to work 60-hour weeks. The advice this manager sought surrounded the best way to break this news. An apparent factor in this example was the evident displeasure heard and seen from the project team. Nobody wants to be forced to work 60-hour weeks, so their displeasure is expected and understandable.
What this manager did wrong in their approach however, was to ignore the displeasure felt by their team. Rather than sympathize with their displeasure, this manager kept reiterating the fact that by law, management had a right to make such a request. Rather than understanding the displeasure their team felt, this manager kept trying to prove why they were not wrong for making such requests. Below are two points we presented the management of that particular project.
Acknowledge Displeasure, No Matter How Wrong It Is
When presenting a piece of bad news, the displeasure your listener feels is seldom backed by logic. The logical decision was likely made by you prior to the presentation of this bad news, and your listener does not have enough time to weigh all the factors in the equation. By trying to logically counter your listeners’ displeasure (like the manager in the example above did) in an effort to seize it, you assume the displeasure that you hear was birthed through logical means. It was not – emotion runs rampant in reactions to bad news, so you must counter it with comforting emotion of your own.
The emotion you should show in return is one of sympathetic understanding. Mention exactly how much working 60-hour weeks sucks. Show your listeners that their displeasure was taken into account when making these difficult decisions. By doing so, you will counter any point they’ll feel they’re making by being displeased. If someone shows us they understand our displeasure fully, what’s the point in continuing to show that we’re displeased?
People show displeasure when they hope it changes the selected course of action. You will take away their hope of using displeasure to change the outcome by empathizing with it. Thereby voicing the displeasing truth about your bad news does not serve to discredit your decision, but rather helps its strength.
If the Displeasure You Receive Is Warranted
Every so often, the displeasure you receive is fully valid. You may have anticipated this displeasure, but feared giving it validity in hopes of covering up your tracks. As much as you may not want to hear it, you must admit your wrongs. Let’s, for example, go through the exercise of ignoring warranted displeasure. Do you think it’ll go away? Your act of ignoring warranted displeasure will germinate attention, and the truth will spread its spores.
This is not the time to teach you merits and instill the desire to be honest, but let us just say this: life is easier when you are. If the displeasure that you hear is warranted and true, then acknowledge it and take steps to resolve the issue. It is simple as that. If you explore all options and conclude that the issue cannot be solved in time, then you must communicate your methodology and results to the ones who are displeased. Displeasure is best dealt with honesty, and your influence over others will grow rapidly should you learn to operate with it.