"The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant." ~Max DePree

"Either you deal with what is the reality or you can be sure that the reality is going to deal with you." ~Alex Haley

When you need to convey something to your team, peer, or boss it is important that you “tailor” the way it is communicated in a way that gets what you want out of it. I’m not talking about “spinning” the message in a positive or negative way that detracts from the truth of the issue. What I am talking about is conveying it in the way that gets everything across that you want to get across.

Too often we have something to pass on and we just send out an e-mail by default. E-mail is quick and easy, but has the worst form of leverage as it is the poorest communication technique. So in an ideal setting, what should you strive for from a communication standpoint when delivering bad news?

Always in person

  • They can see your body language and hear the inflection in your voice.
  • They can ask questions immediately.
  • YOU can see if they “get it”.

Always as quick as possible

  • “Bad news isn’t wine, it doesn’t improve with age” ~Colin Powell
  • Ensures that they don’t find out from someone else.

Always let them know what you are doing about it.

  • The discussion then becomes constructive.
  • You can SHOW them where the light at the end of the tunnel is.
  • If you weren’t proactive in the avoidance of the issue, you can at least be proactive in the solution.

If you can’t do it in person, at least do it over the phone.

  • With the exception of body language (you and them) you have all of the other traits noted above.

If you can’t do it yourself, give it to a trusted Lieutenant.

  • Then follow up yourself as soon as possible

Now this is what you should “strive” for. Obviously in today’s workplace, you don’t always have the time, but you do need to balance all of your interests and deliver as much impact as possible when you can. But the idea is that you act quickly, take ownership, and plan the way out. Your plan should be to squash bad news right away so that there is nothing left to discuss.

Bad news is something that we are all VERY used to managing, but what about the good news? Do you manage the good news to maximize the positive benefit on your department? If not, you are missing and enormous opportunity to give your team more of a positive kick in the pants. Here is what I recommend:


Not everyone responds to speeches or memos or words for that matter. REALLY show the impact of the improvement by creating a pie chart, a graph, pictures, something. The more effort you put into it, the more people will recognize it.

§  Hint-Don’t be afraid to adjust the scale to show maximum impact. Not all charts need to start at zero. A chart show an increase from 70 to 80 that starts at zero and peaks at 100, doesn’t “appear” to show as much improvement as one that starts from 60 and peaks at 100.

Shout it from the rooftops

Make a big announcement, call it out in pre-shift, do something to make everyone aware of what took place. If you can’t be sure that 100% of your staff is going to know about it, you aren’t “shouting” loud enough.

“Own” your successes

Too often we expect the success to happen, so we don’t publicize it, or we feel like we are bragging. But as Drucker says above, we need MUCH MORE positive messaging, so you must won the success when they come to create the environment of positivity.

Leverage the past success for the next success

The real benefit is being able to shout out how good the news is to give you the political and emotional leverage to bring your team to the NEXT level. A positive message should always end with what is next on the horizon to strive for.

So to sum up: Handling things in person, quickly and with a plan for the future are the keys to getting the most out of your news. You want to squash bad news by leaving nothing for further discussion, and leverage good news for the next thing.

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