As a project leader, there’ll be times when you’ll need to communicate something difficult or sensitive – a restructure where roles are at risk; a relocation or new ways of working. Delivering these difficult messages requires careful thought and consideration. Roc Technologies’ Comms and Change Manager, Barbara Brown, provides some good advice on how to approach these comms. Here are ten top tips for delivering difficult news.
1) Get approvals or pre-brief
Check if there’s anyone you need to pre-brief or to approve the communication (your manager, HR, legal, regulatory). Ensure you have the facts correct.
2) Prioritise those most affected
Communicate with those most affected by the news first, and always before they hear about it from other sources.
Think about when you communicate. A Friday afternoon leaves two days when someone cannot ask questions or seek clarification.
4) Allow space for private questions
Wherever possible, try to communicate in person in a private space. If you need to tell a number of people simultaneously, make sure there’s time for a one-to-one conversation and private questions afterwards.
5) Be human
People will remember how they felt they were treated. Communicate in a straight-forward, human way and focus early on what it means for the individual. Follow up with details in writing afterwards if necessary.
6) Take responsibility
Take responsibility for the message – don’t say “I’ve been told to tell you” or “It’s been decided that“. You have to lead the change. If you get a question that you don’t know the answer to, it’s OK to say you don’t know and acknowledge feelings of uncertainty. Commit to finding answers and talk about the next stages in the process.
7) Expect a reaction
Respect people’s reactions. It may range from silence, anger to acceptance. Be prepared.
8) Be available and listen
Time is often the thing that most helps people deal with difficult news. They’ll naturally progress through the change curve.
9) Focus on what the team can control
Focus the team on immediate deliverables that are within their control.
10) Reduce uncertainty
Be clear about what happens next in the process. Even if the outcome of a change isn’t known, you can explain the plan or stages to get there and when people can expect to hear more.