The MPW Insiders Network is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: What’s the best way to deliver bad news to your team? is written by Kim Getty, president of Deutsch LA.
There are many things that keep me up at night, but it’s not hitting deadlines, making the numbers, or the other regular demands of running a business. The people who show up every day are what I care most about, which makes tough conversations the hardest part of my job. It makes sense that most people find delivering bad news challenging. But delivering bad news the right way can actually earn you more credibility as a leader than sharing the big wins. Some tenets for consideration:
Deliver good news fast. And bad news faster. Speed is crucial in these situations. And the best thing you can do is pick up the phone, or set up an in-person meeting right away and have that conversation. Getting out ahead of bad news allows you to control the narrative, before rumors and speculation can take hold. It’s OK if you don’t have every next step or implication figured out. Let people know that you’re working through the game plan, and that there will be updates as soon as there’s more information. The key is to let the facts, not under-informed imaginations, drive the story.
Don’t sugar coat it. This is one of the biggest mistakes we can make when delivering bad news. Don’t try to manufacture a silver lining – lay out the facts and let people do the math on their own. You’ll get more credibility by doing it this way.
Don’t make it about you. The reason delivering bad news never gets any easier is because there is a human on the other side of the conversation. A lot of people say, ‘I feel terrible about this’ or ‘This is so hard for me to do,’ but don’t make that mistake. It’s not about you – it’s about them. Of course no one likes letting people down. But your feelings are not what matters. Your job is to communicate the information in a way that people can react to in the way that works best for them.
Tell everyone at once. Whenever possible, get everyone together and have one, clear conversation. This takes away any opportunity for misinformation to spread during the time between individual conversations, and also gives everyone a chance to discuss questions in the open, creating greater transparency.
Handling difficult conversations well is crucial — not only as a means to mitigate any damaging effects and exhibit effective leadership, but because poorly delivered bad news can make or break ongoing relationships. Relationships you build at work are bigger than the building, and they’re even bigger than the company. Communicating the good and the bad in a fair and respectful way is how you build a connection that can last a lifetime. Being the bearer of bad news from a position of honesty, respect and empathy may not make the process any less painful, but it is the right way to go.