Telling someone that their job is at risk has got to be one of the most difficult pieces of communication anyone might have to make. In the context of change management, unfortunately, this is all too often a task that senior managers and team leaders will have to embrace.
Whilst communications strategies for implementing change programmes are often excellent, advanced training for those having to deliver the news on the ground is often overlooked. If you consider that this kind of scenario is not beyond reality for most companies, these days, then as part of a wider leadership programme all business managers would benefit from coaching that prepares them for the day they have to give colleagues bad news.
When I met just such a group of managers, who had to present news about redundancies to their teams, recently, the thing they most feared was the fallout. Having to face individual members of their teams in one to one support meetings became the focus for their terror.
However important it is to the well being of the organisation having to deliver bad news like this is difficult. When you know you know your staff personally, you know who have young kids, who have just taken on a mortgage or whose mother has been ill it feels a bit like dropping a bombshell on to innocent bystanders.
There is never going to be a good time to lose your job and different people will deal with the news in different ways but that does not escape the fact that most people are going to be upset to a greater or lesser extent.
What the group of managers failed to see – blinded as they were by the panic of having to deal with all these awkward situations and individuals – was that they themselves had the power within them to limit the fallout from the announcement.
The way they presented the news was overlooked as a control mechanism and a certain amount of complacency was evident in the approach to the presentation considering its challenging nature.
Every consideration must be given to the audience and full leaderships skills to be asserted. It is essential that the message is delivered with confidence and compassion and it must be convincing. The speaker must show that they believe in the underlying reason for cuts – usually a measure to bring organisations into the leaner and fitter category.
You cannot hope to make the audience feel great but you can aim to make them feel valued despite everything and it is important that you do. If they can detect a genuine message of care they are will feel less upset and angry.
Building leaderships skills and learning to foster positive relationships and environments is essential before making an announcement that is potentially inflammatory. If you do not then things might get a bit sticky and it is much more difficult developing ‘counselling’ skills overnight – which is what you will need in order to deal with very distressed people.
Even for the best communicators dealing with distress and anger is difficult. What do you actually say to someone in front of you when you know that losing his or her job feels like the end of the world?
• Firstly understand that you cannot sort out other people’s lives for them.
• The best skill you can employ here is to listen, compassionately but without comment. Let them get things off their chest.
• Aim to make them fee valued and assure them that they are not personally at fault.
• Be as positive as you can. Assure them that they have always been a valuable member of the team and stress their positive skills and attributes.
• Encourage them to talk things through by asking open questions that they cannot just give just a yes or no answer to – for example, “How do you feel about this?” “What kind of plan of action have you thought of”? “How do you think you might achieve that?” “How can we support you further”?
• If you find yourself faced with someone who is really angry then aim to calm things down. You might say “Lets go and have a coffee” or “I can see this is very difficult for you – let’s talk “.
• Never accuse them. Say “I feel under attack here, I really do want to support you” rather than “you are attacking me”.
• There is no point in you feeling bad if it is not going to help the situation. Keep your equilibrium and to respond constructively in the face of negative fallout
Mentor Consultancy offers Presentation Training and Media Training