“Delivering bad news is tough. It’s even harder when you don’t agree with the message or decision you’re communicating. Maybe you have to tell your star performer that HR turned down her request for a raise or to inform your team that the company doesn’t want them working from home any longer. Should you toe the line and act like you agree with the decision or new policy? Or should you break ranks and explain how upset you are too?
What the Experts Say
‘In a managerial role, it’s natural to feel ambivalence’ when delivering disappointing news, says Joshua Margolis, a professor of business administration at Harvard Business School. This is because you always have two different parties’ interests at heart — that of your employees and that of upper management. Talent management expert andhumanresources.about.com writer Susan Heathfield agrees: ‘As a manager, you walk a fine line between being a company advocate and an employee advocate.’ Reconciling the two is no easy task and you often feel stuck between a rock and a hard place. Here’s how to navigate the situation. …
Putting it all together
To give you a sense of what this all sounds like, consider the following example. If you have to tell a direct report that he didn’t get the promotion he was hoping for you can say something like: We’re unable to give you the promotion (be direct). HR says that in order to be at a director level you need to have responsibility for a larger scope of the business (explain the rationale). It’s not necessarily how I’d approach it, but I understand why as an organization we do it that way (express procedural fairness). What questions do you have for me? How are you feeling? (Allow for venting). Now let’s look at what you can do to get that promotion next year or the following one (focus on the future).”