In our daily lives, there are few things more important than open and honest communication. Unfortunately, there is often a tendency to avoid talking about “bad news”. As I think about why this is, many factors come to mind. One that we can control is our reaction to the person bearing the bad news.
For example, as parents the way we respond to our kid’s bad news will determine how much information we get from them in the future. If we blow up at them every time they tell us bad news, they will quit talking to us.
When my son Evan was in first grade, we had an incident where we became aware of bad news. He personally did not share it with us at first, and our challenge was how to handle the situation. If you are a parent, you will get a kick out of this story and hopefully it will demonstrate my point as well.
We received a call from Evan’s teacher regarding a signature on a report card. When the report cards were handed out, the kids were told to take them home and have their parents sign. In Evan’s case, this particular report card had a conduct grade on it that would have been unacceptable to us. Fearing the reaction from us, he came up with what was in his mind a great plan. He would sign the report card himself and turn it back in thus avoiding the bad news of the conduct grade. He carried out the plan to perfection, turned the report card in and all was well; or so he thought! When the teacher reviewed the report cards to verify that parents had actually signed them, Evan’s had a curious signature. He had signed the report card MOM. The teacher called us and was so amused that she said she was going to let us handle it with Evan She was not going to bring it up to him. In a week or so, we ask Evan when he was going to get his report card. You can guess what happened next. That guilty face overcame him and he confessed what he had done. We reacted in a calm manner and explained to him why what he had done was wrong. We demonstrated to him that we were not going to “shoot him” when he needed to bring home bad news. We would talk about the problem, determine the appropriate action and move on with life. After the report card signing, we did not have another incident in first grade where he failed to tell us bad news. As parents, we hoped that we had taught Evan a valuable lesson.
In our business careers, the same principle applies. Our reaction to team members delivering bad news will determine how much bad news we actually hear. If we respond in an inappropriate way, team members become reluctant to share things with us that we need to know. As employers and managers we should carefully guard our reactions toward the bearer of the news and deal with only the news. Emotions can be a part of our reaction, but we need to point that our emotions are over the news and not aimed toward the individual delivering it. In our Company we have a standing policy that we want all bad news immediately. We encourage our team to share any negative or even potentially negative news as soon as they become aware of it. We try to never react inappropriately to the news. We keep ourselves on guard against “shooting the messenger”.