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 a project’s go-live was coming up, and in the month leading toward the day of go-live, all members of the project team would be required to work 60-hour weeks (legal in this location). The advice this manager sought surrounded the best way to break this news. An apparent barrier to move through in this example, was the expected displeasure they’d hear and see from the project team. Nobody wants to be forced to work 60-hour weeks, so their displeasure would be expected and understandable.
What this manager did wrong in their presentation of this news 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 leadership was 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 via logical means. It was not; emotion runs rampant in reactions to bad news, so you should counter it with comforting, calm, and kind 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 and ensure that your audience sees that your understanding aligns with theirs. 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 fully empathizing with it. They’ll realize just how much you understand their point of view in that specific regard, and would come to sympathize with the difficult decision you had to make yourself. Voicing the displeasing truth about your bad news does not serve to discredit your decision, but rather, counter-intuitively helps its acceptance.
If the Displeasure You Receive Exposes Holes in Your Plan
Every so often, the displeasure you receive is unanticipated. Not only would it be unanticipated, but you’ll fear giving it validity in hopes of covering up your tracks in the moment of realizing its validity. As much as you may not want to hear it, you must admit your wrongs. Your act of ignoring warranted displeasure will germinate into something for others to pay attention to, and the truth will spread its spores.
This is not the time to teach you proper merits and instill the desire to be honest, but let’s 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 as simple as that. If you explore all options and conclude that the issue cannot be solved in time, then you should communicate your methodology of trying your hardest to resolve the issue. Displeasure is best dealt with honesty, and your influence over others will grow rapidly if you learn to make the painful truth work for you.