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This is post is going to be concerned with, what John Nettles’ character described in a recent edition of Midsomer Murders as, ‘the delicate art of delivering bad news’ We covered giving feedback in a recent post and this is closely related, so you may wish to read that as well.
On most occasions when you give feedback your hearer is expecting a message of some kind – good or bad. Where as bad news often comes as a shock! Even if is it expected in principle – the reality and the details may be hard to bear! There is, and should be, a lot more to it than just saying or writing the words! If you want to ensure there is the best possible out come then you will need to prepare and to follow-up, as well as delivering the message well! The advice given here is based on that usually given to medical students in the UK as part of their training. But it applies equally well if you are giving seriously bad news at work, for example, about redundancy!
Preparing to give bad news is almost as important as actually giving it. For instance, where are you going to have the meeting? Where you’ll sit or stand in relation to the hearer and even what you will wear is important if the news is seriously bad. If you are going to write, then you need to think about the medium – this is not the time for a very brief email!
When choosing a place, you should make sure it’s quiet with little or no chance of interruption. Make sure it’s some place you can make the person feel as comfortable as possible. If possible, sit close to the person at eye-level with no barrier between you. Studies have shown that many people feel isolated and alone if you sit behind a desk or some other barrier. They may also perceive you as cold and uncaring if you sit too far away. Knowing how you should comfort really must come from what you know about the person! For instance, if you’ve found they don’t like people sitting too close this may make them feel uncomfortable rather than at ease.
One thing that is important is for you to be very clear about the facts, the explanation behind a decision, for example, before you begin. You also need to know the options open to the person. In case of redundancy, what support can the person expect from HR? In this example, identify an HR contact that you can pass onto the individual? The worst thing you can do when giving bad new is to give the individual the impression that you didn’t even care enough to find out the facts. Know your material and don’t work from notes, if you can, on this occasion! Notes can provide a barrier and you will not be able to fully judge their reactions so well!
Work out what your own feelings are about the situation and how to deal with them before the meeting. You want the person to know you are sorry but it isn’t fair to overwhelm them with your own grief!
Giving the news
Watching the person’s reaction and listening are very important while actually while giving bad news. Just from body language or the extent of eye contact, you can tell if they understand and accept what you’re saying and what emotions they are experiencing. Be prepared for anger or despair with serious news. It is really important to remember to speak clearly and slowly. Don’t jump straight into the news – go through the usual courtesies at the beginning of the meeting. In a letter warn them that you have bad news and say that you are sorry about it!
Throughout the meeting, ask them if they have any questions and if they understand what you’re telling them. Your own feelings should be dealt with before the meeting and should not weigh on them!
After you’ve given the bad news, don’t end the meeting abruptly. Ask again for questions or if they need any information repeated. Offer additional sources of information like pamphlets or the names of support groups if they are available. Make sure to pass on the name and contact details for HR.
Most of us feel somewhat lost after receiving very bad news. One way to deal with this is to schedule another meeting shortly afterwards or to ring them to discuss how they are going to manage the time ahead. At the very least you will want to make sure they processed what you told them. Then you may want to allow them some time alone!. Just don’t rush them out of your office or wherever the meeting is taking place. Take time to be kind – compassion costs us nothing!
A whitepaper at our sister blog Making Performance Matter provides you with a step by step guide to mapping processes and changing/re-engineering them! The guide consists of a four step process which is easy to follow and can be used in simple or complex situations. Use the technique to deliver measurable benefits to your own processes or to help your client. Remember the importance of engagement and consultation.
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Taking stock of your life to see if it is on track is a bit like going to see your dentist for a regular check up! We all know we should do but lots of us don’t! We find lots of excuses for not actually getting on with it. For some of us we put it off until it’s forced on us, for example, at redundancy or some kind of personal tragedy. But most of us would probably gain from a simple check up periodically may be once a year! December is a superb time to take stock on where you are both on a professional and a personal level. You can then begin to think through your plan for next year and how you are going to make it brilliant!
So get your pad and pen – here are some thoughts to speed your on your way!
Most of us will probably find it easiest to start with work! What is your work all about? Why are you doing it now? Why did you choose it in the first place? Has it got meaning for you and is it fulfilling? Be specific and very honest! Think through how you would really like to spend that one third of your life. How does that match up against what you are doing? Identify the gap between the career anchors you aspire to and what you have – autonomy, expertise, security, creativity, the ability to use your professional knowledge! But be realistic about financial reward and how important that needs to be!
Identify what is non-negotiable for you! The factors in your work and personal life that you’d never contemplate compromising. This might include the type of work you’d consider doing and within what industries.
Be realistic as well about the present climate! Having a job is a great plus, so don’t immediately think you need to move. See what can be changed where you are now! Are there other ways of doing your work? Are there new challenges you can take on and new skills you can acquire? Does your boss know what you would really like to do – are there opportunities that your boss can give you access to? But don’t let your unwillingness to move from an existing comfort zone hold you back.
On a personal note, the “non-negotiable” factors could include things like the relationship with your partner, where you live, the house you live in, the friends and family about you, your willingness to travel, and the quality of life you enjoy. But again think about your relationships and how you manage them! Is there work you need to do to improve them? How could you make your life outside work richer for you and those about you?
Understand your strengths, your flaws and your fears. Be honest about who you are! What are you good at? Write it down and be proud! What do you think you can’t do and why? Where is the evidence? Decide what you are going to work on and decide what you are going to give up trying to do! Are there things you think you should be good at rather than things you want to be good at or need to be good at? Do you really want to waste your precious time on them?
Now make your Action Plan for next year! How are things going to change? What are you going to do? Above all don’t let lack of self confidence hold you back! Dream you dream! Believe in you and what you can achieve. And next year come here again and do another stock take! Reach higher and higher until you reach the star right at the top of your own personal Christmas Tree!
In all kinds of situations we may need to give feedback to someone about something they have said or done. This may be an employee, a work colleague, a business partner. But it may equally well be a close friend or relative. In my view the same principles hold good and they certainly work for maintaining a positive approach in change teams
McGill and Beatty (in “Action learning: A practitioner’s guide”, London: Kogan Page, 1994, p. 159-163) provide useful suggestions about giving effective feedback:
1. Clarity — be clear about what you want to say. Think before you speak!
2. Emphasize the positive — this doesn’t mean you are endorsing the present behaviour!
3. Be specific — avoid general comments and clarify pronouns such as “it,” “that,” etc – be as clear and simple as you can!
4. Focus on behaviour or the words spoken or written rather than the person.
5. Refer to behaviour/approaches that can be changed.
6. Be descriptive rather than evaluative. Try to stay in the neutral ground emotionally!
7. Own the feedback — Use ‘I’ statements. This is your view!
8. Generalizations – be wary of word like “all,” “never,” “always,” etc., be more specific — often these words are arbitrary limits on behaviour.
9. Be very careful with advice! People rarely struggle with an issue because of the lack of some specific piece of information; often, the best help is helping the person to come to a better understanding of their issue, how it developed, and how they can identify actions to address the issue more effectively.
I would add one further piece of advise – always put yourself in the other person’s shoes! Think how you would feel receiving the same information! No room here for humiliation!
If you are going through major change the last thing you need is a key supplier to fail! Follow this link to a useful post on the G&W Consulting Blog “Making Performance Meaningful” http://tinyurl.com/MPMReviews2 . It will help you work out whether your suppliers are at risk of failure. Wisewolf and G&W have depth of experience in managing change and managing complex supply chains. Geoff Edmundson ( the G in G&W) has managed change and challenging supply chains in both the public and private sectors! So have I! We will be very happy to help with a risk and resilience review! Follow this link to contact us for further advice
If you had any doubts about the value and potential of using social media, check out 30 Interesting, Useless and Pointless Facts on Jeff Bulla’s blog at the following link! Don’t be put off by the title!
You begin to understand why you can’t afford not to know to about Social Media whether you are in the public, private or community sectors!
Here is just one example and three facts!
Generation Y awareness of the Ford Fiesta before Ford started their social media program was 0%. It was 37% as of a month ago and stands at 58% at 3 December 2009.
25% of Ford’s marketing spend is on digital/social media!
Ford is the only US Auto company not to take a government grand!
Now you begin to see the possibilities now that using LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook may bring? We have some tips for developing a Social Media Strategy at this link