How to Convey Difficult Messages in Difficult Times?

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Priyanka Prashob
Priyanka Prashob is an organizational psychologist with 6+ years of experience in the field of Content and Psychology. She is a passionate writer and has authored 2 books. She has designed content for corporate training programs, worked on organizational behavior reports and numerous individual personality assessment reports. Several research articles written by her are published on platforms like Academia and Research Gate. The articles have gained recognition and appreciation from universities, academicians, and researchers across the world.

Difficult times call for difficult or rather drastic measures. As it is leadership is a challenging task and crisis times like these demand leaders to exhibit extraordinary leadership skills. ‘How to convey difficult messages to my people?’ This question is sure to have crossed your minds many times! This is true especially when it comes to conveying difficult messages to your people.

The pessimist complains about the wind. The optimist expects it to change. The leader adjusts the sails

Tough conversations are perfect times to set a positive example as a leader. It is times like this that tests a leader’s true leadership skills.

Without a doubt, fears about what to say, how to deal with other people’s responses, and concern for the individuals impacted, can knock even an experienced leader’s confidence.

But business is not always easy sailing, and conveying difficult messages is an inevitable part of being a leader in any organization.

This difficult message can be anything ranging from negative financial reports to an acquisition, a change in leadership, or even layoffs. 

So, how do you convey such difficult messages to your people?

The faster you communicate, the better it would be. Because delaying it further will only give rise to speculations, rumors, and spread of misinformation. So, to avoid situations from blowing out of proportion, it’s imperative you convey the difficult message to the concerned person – the right way, as soon as possible.

Now, without further ado, let’s look at how some of the great leaders convey difficult messages to their people.  

Drawn from their years of experiences, here are the 5 key ways to convey difficult messages to your people with strategies to make the best out of the difficult situation.

5 steps to convey difficult messages

1. Be honest, precise and deliver the message clearly

Be clear and concise; open and honest about what you have to say.  Also, avoid providing too many details at first. Because this may confuse and even overwhelm your employees. That is, providing too much information or very less can be detrimental either way. Because these 2 scenarios do not provide enough information for your employees to make sense of what is happening. To add on, it may make the situation even worse.

Clarity is the most important element while conveying any message. If a message lacks clarity, then you leave room for more questions than answers!

Therefore, avoid giving mixed messages. Be clear about what you have to say and get straight to the point.

Also, as a leader, you need to be explicit about the choices that are available and not available. Never ever make the mistake of giving false hope to your employees out of sympathy/concern. While the intentions are good, this may only lead people to push boundaries that aren’t negotiable. Thereby, making it awkward and difficult both for you and the employees. 

2. Be empathetic

Language is a crucial element, and so is non-verbal communication. To add on, long-standing research shows that non-verbal communication accounts for up to 93% of your actual message.

So, pay close attention to your body language along with the right choice of words while conveying difficult messages to your people. Because the success of how well your people receive your message greatly depends on your body language.

Therefore, your body language should convey that you genuinely care for your employees and that you understand them.

While communicating a difficult message, it’s important that you express absolute empathy. And listen attentively to what they have to say. Your employees are aware that it’s going to be difficult. And that the bad/difficult news – whatever they may be is sure to hurt them. Your role here is, to be honest with the details that are available, display empathy, and wholeheartedly listen to what they have to say once you have communicated the difficult message.

In other words, expressing your concern for them, acknowledging the reality, and gracefully accepting their reactions will help you win their trust while making the situation light.

3. Focus on the person’s actions rather than on the person

The best leaders draw a clear line between the issue and the repercussions. That is, they separate the event from the person. Help your employees see what went wrong from their point of view. 

Remember: The focus should be on the situation/event and not on the person.

For instance, If you’re correcting behavior, review how an employee’s actions led to a specific consequence. Blaming or labeling the person won’t do any good. That is, Instead of saying – ‘You are lazy’, try reframing it as ‘ You don’t ask customers for all the information we need on the application. So, here the focus shifts to the person’s actions rather than on the person. 

And, if you’re delivering bad news, explain what’s happened, plus how it affected other employees, projects, or the organization.

4. Give them time to process and respond

Once you have conveyed the difficult message to your employee. Give some time for them to process the information. It is indeed going to be a tough time for him/her. Patiently wait for a response. This is the most crucial time of all. Once they are ready, be patient and listen to what they have to say. Answer their queries and clarify their doubts. This brings us to the next important step – ‘allowing them to express their emotions’

5. Be considerate and allow them to express their emotions

It’s only natural to receive an emotional reaction from your employees, post, hearing bad news. Encourage them to express what they are going through. Create an environment where they feel free to approach and discuss things with you.

Allowing your employees to express their emotions shows that you care for them. Thereby, making this entire journey of communicating difficult messages a less painful process. 

Final words

The quality of your communication is important when relaying tough messages. Nevertheless, it ain’t an easy task! It is a journey that’s emotionally taxing for both you and your people. 

But, what has to be done – has to be done! Being the bearer of bad news is never fun, but we hope these above-mentioned tips may help you in this journey of conveying difficult messages to your people.

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