How to Deliver Bad News
Being a leader is not easy. Dealing with complex issues sometimes requires that you hold your tongue, and sometimes requires that you speak up. Discerning which of the two is necessary can be a challenge. But one thing I know for sure is that the way you deliver the message can help pave the way for a constructive resolution, rather than digging the hole even deeper.
I found myself in one of these sticky situations at a recent meeting. A fairly heated discussion was brewing. You could sense fear and defensiveness in the air. Caught up in the tensions and feeling the need to make a point, I blurted out a comment that I immediately wished I had the power to gather up in my arms and shove back down my throat!
It wasn’t meant to be a deliberate slam. It was just meant to serve as an example of something I thought we could improve. Saying it the way I did was a stupid mistake. It was not good leadership, and it plagued me for a while until I was able to make amends.
Even with the best intentions, leaders can slip up—we’re all human after all. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have the responsibility to strive to be more thoughtful under difficult circumstances.
Put It Into Practice
As the dust cleared a few days after this situation erupted, I reflected on what I would have liked to do differently. I wasn’t sorry I had made the point—making the point was what a good leader would have done. But I was sorry for the way I presented it.
To avoid these missteps in the future, I penned the following advice to myself, and I now use it to center myself when I feel the tensions rise:
Do not seek power over people. Seek to have a voice. To let that voice be heard, first listen.
It’s advice we can all use to keep our foot out of our mouth—and to build stronger, more respectful relationships.