Delivering Bad News …
People’s stories of when they had to deliver bad news and how it went.
“Dom I’m sorry to tell you but we have decided to give the job to Ben …”
“Rob, you didn’t get the job, we had some concerns about your performance …”
Having to say these words were difficult for Arnold, but let’s back up a little to:
Arnold’s Story: Delivering Bad News:
A Case Study:
ABC Property Association had gone through a major downsizing and restructuring process due to the economic crisis. Two thirds of the company employees were going to lose their jobs. The company had decided that the fairest approach in deciding who would keep and who would lose their job was to have everyone interview for the job they were already doing. This meant people were competing against their colleagues for one in three of them to remain in their role. Morale that was already at an all-time low continued to be destroyed day in day out as the interviews took place, and the subsequent decisions were made as to who would keep and who would lose their job.
Arnold’s position in the company meant he had responsibility for managing this restructuring, and for delivering the bad news to the people who were losing their jobs. This was causing him a lot of pain and anxiety. He knew all of these people individually. He knew their backgrounds and their circumstances; and he knew how bad the job market within their industry was, and how difficult it would be for people to get a new job.
In preparing for the first two conversations he needed to have, he met with Tom, a colleague and fellow manager whose opinion and advice Arnold had always valued. Tom imparted these words of:
- Prepare what you are going to say from a place of empathy and humility, with regard to both the situation and what you’re going to do next;
- Don’t sugar coat the truth, instead say what you have to say, and phrase it in a way that people know you respect their humanity;
- The more sensitive the issue, the more rapidly emotions can escalate. See things from each individual’s perspective, not as “you in their shoes”, but as them. Do this by really listening to their responses, and allowing them to tell their story
This really helped Arnold. He wanted to navigate this difficult situation that people found themselves in through no fault of their own with dignity for everyone impacted. He believed it was important to be open and honest about bad situations, and he always strived to take a straightforward approach in saying the toughest stuff. This is not something that always came easily to him, and over the years he had learnt through many sources and resources – people, training courses and books that had helped in being able to say what needed to be said. The book he reached for to help him in this moment was The Power of A Positive No by William Ury, from which he gleaned the following:
“When No means bad news for the recipient, it can be hard to deliver. A fact-based approach can help the recipient accept the No.”
“Sometimes blunt candour is called for.” “The employee may not like hearing this, but in the end he may learn something useful and, in any case, it serves him better than the boss being evasive. Being honest and straight with people can work well if you accompany the candour with empathy and respect.” “Be hard on the problem, not the person.”
This also really helped Arnold in preparing for the first two conversations he needed to have.
For his conversation with Dom, Arnold knew that he needed to stick to the facts, to let Dom know what the decision had been based upon. Knowing Dom, he believed he would respect the process, and recognise that it was fair.
For his conversation with Rob, whose performance of late had caused serious concerns, he knew he needed to be honest and straight in saying what needed to be said. He also knew he needed to say this with empathy and respect.
By way of further preparation Arnold asked himself the following question:
- How can I ensure I understand and respond to the needs, viewpoints and perspectives of everyone I need to deliver bad news to?
The answer that came to him was:
- He needed to prepare well for each conversation by way of knowing each person’s individual circumstances. This would allow him to think about the support he could offer, over and above the redundancy financial package.
- In the meetings he needed to give people the space to say what they needed to say, and he needed to listen well in order to truly understand what was being said.
This is how Arnold began his conversation with Dom:
“Dom, I’m sorry to tell you we have decided to give the job to Ben. Our decision was based on the fact that he has had more experience interacting with stakeholders on Eco policies. Your work with the company has been exemplary and it was a difficult decision.”
Even though Dom was disappointed, he appreciated the way in which Arnold had delivered the news. Because it was fact-based Dom said he recognised the decision had been made objectively.
Dom went on to share with Arnold that he was considering undertaking a college course. His reasons were two-fold:
- He believed it would take the economy, the industry and the market time to recover, time during which he believed it would be difficult to secure a new position, and so he was planning on taking time out to do a masters in eco design;
- He’d had a keen interest in eco design for a long time, but never had the time or the disposable income to invest in doing a masters. He believed together with his experience and knowledge of the property industry, this course would allow him to hit the ground running when the economy did improve, and as importantly it would allow him to make a positive impact to environmental housing.
Over and above the redundancy financial settlement Arnold was able to give Dom, he was also able to offer him further support with university fees. This was part of an ongoing programme the company had with the local university. On top of this he told Dom he would be able to offer him work experience as his course progressed.
This is how Arnold began his conversation with Rob:
“Rob, you didn’t get the job, we had some concerns about your performance. I understand how difficult it is to find any positivity in a situation like this, but the truth is your negativity has had a serious impact on your performance.”
Although this was hard for Rob to hear, he knew it was the truth, and he needed someone to speak the truth to him. Arnold had delivered these words with empathy and respect, and Rob appreciated that. He opened up to Arnold about how he was feeling, about how he was struggling every day to get through the day. He was worried about himself, and he was also worried how he was going to survive financially being out of work. But instead of asking for help he’d reacted negatively and pushed people away when they’d showed concern.
Arnold was in a position to make sure that Rob received the help and support he needed. He arranged for him to meet with a career counsellor to help him manage the emotional and practical elements in moving his WorkLife forward during this time of uncertainty.
Arnold took time to reflect on both conversations by way of giving himself feedback on how they had gone. He acknowledged what he had done that had allowed the conversations to go well, which was:
- The way in which he had prepared;
- The way in which he had delivered the news in saying what he had to say;
- The way in which this had given Dom and Rob the space they needed to say what they needed to say;
- The way in which by really listening, he was able to offer both of them the individual support they needed over and above the redundancy financial settlement.
He also acknowledged what he could have done better, which was:
- He could have taken time to talk to Dom about what he wanted rather than automatically have him go through the interview process. He now knew that Dom would have opted out of this, and would have welcomed knowing about the extra support Arnold was able to offer at an earlier stage in the process.
- He knew he needed to have had an earlier conversation with Rob. He knew Rob’s behaviour was out of character, and now he realised it was a cry for help. Had Arnold taken the time to speak to him earlier, he could have helped to alleviate some of Rob’s anxiety and concerns
Words of Wisdom
Sharing bad news is not easy. Learn to be straightforward in saying the toughest stuff. Listen and work through people’s response and say what you’re going to do next.
Today’s Book of the Blog is: The Power Of A Positive No by William Ury
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WorkLife Book Wisdom
The intention of this blog is to inspire you through people’s stories of their WorkLife experiences. Through these stories you will learn about people’s dreams and ambitions, along with the challenges, obstacles and successes they encountered along the road of their WorkLife journey. And how they used the power of book wisdom to help them find the inspiration and guidance to navigate their path to live their WorkLife with passion, purpose and pride.
My hope is that these book wisdom stories will help you throughout the chapters of your WorkLife Story.