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Delivering Bad News Can Lead to Giving Hope

Napoleon Bonaparte, the French statesman and military leader, was simultaneously celebrated, controversial and followed faithfully through many successful campaigns during the French Revolutionary Wars. Today, his strategies and campaigns are studied throughout the world. No doubt he had days when he needed to deliver grim news. He once said, “A leader is a dealer in hope.” He recognized that communicating with his soldiers meant that sharing unfavorable news must be tempered by reinforcing strategic solutions, continuing to justify why they were in battle and instilling hope in the ranks.

In business, heading into the office can feel like going into battle on some days—especially when you have unpleasant information to report. In part one of this series, I shared three excerpts from Robert Bies’ “ten commandments for delivering bad news.” Together they form a solid foundation for the essential task of respecting others when sharing unwelcome information. Today, I’d like to continue with three more of his insights below that represent how you reassure your people in the midst of disheartening news:

The Fourth Commandment:
“Thou shalt always bring solutions.”

According to Bies, “Bad news without solutions is truly bad news.” So true! I would add to his blunt and accurate assessment that presenting a solution gives your unfortunate news less power over your people. By focusing on corrective measures, you put everyone’s attention back on potential rather than on what can’t be changed. Helping your team see their way out of the negative circumstances with a strategy will boost their resilience.

The Fifth Commandment:
Thou shalt always look for the silver lining.”

The key to this guidance is emphasizing “the temporary aspects of the news so you can increase morale and motivation, particularly during budget cuts, job layoffs, and corporate turnarounds.” Having personally led companies through the types of setbacks Bies describes, I can say that giving hope is one of the most important functions you can provide as a leader and the reason why I began with Bonaparte’s quote. Hope that is grounded in reality—not spin or sugarcoating—sustained all of our stakeholders through challenging times.

The Sixth Commandment:
“Thou shalt always justify.”

Bies explains that your rationale for bad news should include specific and concrete reasons. When your team hears unfortunate news, they want to understand exactly why it happened. You must include the details behind what has transpired so your team can begin to make sense of how to move forward. Do your best to avoid blaming individuals when you share details; otherwise you get mired in the past rather than focusing on the future.

I can say that giving hope is one of the most important functions you can provide as a leader. tweet this

Whether in battle on the field or in the office, the way you reassure your people in the midst of uncertainty demonstrates your value to the company. It’s also what motivates your team to persevere when doubts about their circumstances creep into their consciousness.

Improving your bad-news delivery skills is a must because it’s required more often than we recognize. Doing so with integrity is what makes you a leader worth following. Watch for my final installment of this series when I’ll build on respect and reassurance by discussing the elements of surprise, truth and timing.

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