Hate bad news. Or, more precisely, I hate giving bad news. No big shocker there. I haven’t met anyone who likes to dole out less-than-favorable news. While nobody likes to dole out the bad news, seemingly fewer of us (!) know how to do it well. Reminds me of the baseball movie Moneyball when Jonah Hill’s character, Peter Brand, is charged with cutting a player. Essentially, Brand is tasked with delivering the definition of bad news. Why was Brand so anxious? Why are any of us anxious about it? Two main reasons. First, I think it’s because we feel bad for the other person who is getting the news. And, we don’t want to be seen as a baddie. Those are the overt reasons. The tertiary reason is a bit more subtle. We don’t know how the other person is going to react, and that uncertainty is scary. They might take it well. They might call us names. They might be relieved. Hard to say, and even harder to prepare for. And because we can’t prepare we are reticent. Alas, future leaders who can stare into the void and provide the bad news with care, empathy, and certainty, in the end, is doing the receiver a service. Let’s make a deal to get past our own discomfort in service of those we have the privilege of leading.
When somebody is doing the mental calculus as to whether to join your team, one of the metrics they are using is the PITA factor. As in, how much of a pain-in-the-ass are you going to be as a leader. Since we are in an unabashed employee’s job market, the weight of this metric has increased in recent years. PITA is not only reserved for what you do. It is also broadcast in what you are not doing. Superstars don’t want to join teams that are led by turkeys (not referencing real turkeys here), they want to join teams that are led by other superstars. Yes, you offer a salary. Yes, you offer benefits. Yes, you have nodded in the general direction of creating the right culture. But, other organizations do this too–organizations that are competing for that superstar you have in front of you. What to do? Well, there’s a lot of meat on that bone (getting back to turkeys). One thing I would suggest: Start talking about how their role fits into the larger story. We work because we get something out of it. Something more than just money and benefits. We want to be a part of something larger than ourselves. We want to feel like we matter, that our work matters. Speak to that larger story and then put their potential work in the context of that larger story.
Sometimes I think we confuse what it means to communicate better. The subject is broad, so let me focus on only one aspect. Communicating better doesn’t necessarily mean communicating more often. It might mean that, but not always. If we have a message that we are trying to embed into someone else such that it moves them to some kind of action, then it is in our interest to find out how to do that in the best way. The not-best-way may mean the message gets lost, doesn’t land right, or is unclear. Then we have to try it again. So, how do we do it in the best way? Well, it’s always going to vary depending on who you are talking to, but one idea is to package the content with context. Meaning, instead of putting out the “what” and leaving it at that, we include the “why.” Why this new policy needed. Why we are now doing it this way instead of the old way. Why this stuff matters in the first place. Context puts the content into perspective. And, that perspective leads to understanding.