How Not To Communicate

Recently a company decided that it was going to require that employees take an unpaid furlough in order to help defray costs in these very turbulent times.

Certainly not unusual – many companies do this, particularly at the end of the year. The problem here is that the CEO announced the furlough without involving HR on the front end, so a plan was not put into place as to how the furlough would be handled. Additionally, the CEO did not allow the employees to ask questions after the announcement was made. More than a week went by and plans were still not finalized. Needless to say, the employees were less than thrilled and made their respective feelings very well known.

This is not the way to operate. Such ambiguity leads to unrest amongst the employees, particularly when employees are essentially being asked give up their pay. Communicating bad news requires absolute clarity from those communicating the message. Oftentimes how the message is communicated is more the problem than the message itself.

There are some very good articles out there that focus on communicating bad news to employees. One such article offers this advice:

If open and honest communication is not part of the organization’s culture, personality, and history, then communicating bad news is bad news. Without a well-established framework that supports a dialogue of full disclosure, there’s very little that can be done at the last minute to make the communication of bad news anything other than a disastrous disappointment…Proper planning prevents poor performance. This may sound like a panacea – but it is essential in communicating bad news. In fact, organizations that are good at communicating bad news have contingency plans in case they’re needed. Good planning can’t occur at the last minute.

Another article has this to say:

How to Structure the Bad News Message

Answer the tough questions up front. The best way to structure a bad news message is to answer the tough questions up front. For example, if a manager must announce layoffs, he should answer his employees’ specific questions first rather than beat around the bush. The employees’ questions will likely be: How does this affect me? What is my severance package? When will this take place?

Be direct. Be honest, but be sensitive. Avoid language that attempts to evade responsibility or obscure the issue. In addition, speak in the active voice to show that you accept accountability. For example: “I have reviewed your request for a marketing assistant, but unfortunately I can’t squeeze any more out of the budget this year.”

Use clear language. Too often, unclear statements result in misunderstandings and misinterpretations. Rehearse what you need to say beforehand to prevent making any misleading or vague statements. Use straightforward sentences and language to convey the bad news.

Focus on what can be done. In the midst of a crisis, we often react negatively to the things we cannot control. Or we express what cannot be done. In a bad-news message, focus on the positive, on what can be done. ”

All of this is very good advice and seems to be common sense for the most part. It just strikes me as odd that the above company, along with many others, has ignored such common sense and allowed chaos to reign supreme. They basically got everything wrong.

Then again, nothing should really surprise me anymore.

4 Replies to “How Not To Communicate”

  1. Lori –
    Good advice, and yes, it all seems so common sense but it’s hard work. I worked for a company that had a LOT of bad news to communicate, so it became kind of a core competency.

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