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  • Writer's pictureRich Haglund

Bad news is only bad if it's a surprise

I was reminded this week of the importance of creating places where bad news is shared upwards, quickly. Creating such a culture makes a difference at home, too.

So, how do you foster an environment where people are comfortable sharing bad news or even the possibility of less-than-expected results? Here are a few suggestions from two expert sources.

Manager Tools covers the topic in a 22 minute podcast, Thank you for the Bad News:

  1. Accept bad news gratefully and positively. Never with anger. Start with positive feedback for quickly sharing the news. Provide improving feedback later as appropriate. Creating time by starting with gratitude allows you to separate your negative emotional response to the problem from the communication about the problem--which should be positive. Getting angry will only dry up the flow of negative information.

  2. Set clear expectations that encourage prompt communication of negative news from directly to line managers. Your manager should never hear bad news from someone above the manager or from a lateral team.

  3. Teach and model this behavior and how easy it is given the ubiquity of easy communication channels (Slack, Teams, text, etc.).

And The Table Group suggests how can you assess your team's readiness to quickly share bad news. You can assess individuals' readiness to share and effectively receive bad news can be during the hiring process and once they're on your team. In the book, The Ideal Team Player, The Table Group's Patrick Lencioni makes humility one of the three necessary characteristics of team players. The other two necessary characteristics are hungry and smart. A humble person easily admits mistakes, acknowledges weaknesses, and offers and accepts apologies graciously. A culturally/socially "smart" manager will have empathy for teammates and be aware of the effect of words and actions. Such a manager will accept bad news with gratitude and positive feedback. And a hungry team member will willingly tackle challenging tasks (in which mistakes will inevitably be made and delays will occur as part of the learning process).

I encourage you to listen to the short podcast from Manager Tools and to review the concepts in the short book, The Ideal Team Player (link and summary here). Then ask yourself what you can do better to cultivate an environment where others are comfortable sharing "bad" news.

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