How to Best Communicate a Tough Message to Employees
Do you have a message to deliver to your employees that may be tough for them to hear? How will you communicate the message in the most effective, genuine way? Sometimes it is necessary to deliver a message that will be difficult for your employees to hear, whether it is regarding negative financial reports, an acquisition, a change in leadership or even pending layoffs. How do you go about delivering this tough message?
I like the “Rip the Band-Aid” approach. Do it quickly and without preamble. You know it will hurt when you yank the Band-Aid off, but it will hurt less than a slow peel. Keep in mind, employees often know when something’s up and the more time goes by, the more unsettled employees get, which leads to opportunities to fill in the gaps with speculation, rumors and misinformation. To avoid the situation becoming unnecessarily worse, it’s important to communicate your well-formulated message as soon as possible.
5 Guidelines to Follow When Delivering a Tough Message to Employees.
- Recognize that you can’t please everyone. This is a critical point. I’ve seen leaders who are so concerned with the impact of the message to employees that it prevents them from taking action timely. No matter how thoughtful, considerate and well-planned your message is, at the end of the day, it is not going to be seen as good news to everyone. Keeping this in mind as you develop your communication strategy will help you with your message as you follow the next steps.
- Be intentional with the words you choose and deliver your message in a respectful manner. Be clear and concise; open and honest. “Over speaking” happens when you provide too much detail too soon, and employees become confused and overwhelmed. Conversely, this also happens when you do not provide enough information for employees to understand what is going on. Either way, there is a tendency to only remember the worst part of the message and magnify it.
- One size doesn’t necessarily fit all. The situation may require multiple delivery avenues, depending on the scope and impact of the message. As well, the message may not impact everyone in the same way. You may need a communication strategy that includes multiple delivery methods – in person, via email, all employees at once, or small groups of similarly impacted employees.
- Allow an opportunity for employees to ask questions. Respond timely and be open and transparent with your answers, even when the answer is “I can’t provide that information currently,” or “I don’t have that information at this time.” Employees will need time for the message to digest, and when applicable, grieving to take place, which also leads to the last guideline.
- Have a communication plan in place for follow-up communication. Expect the need for follow-up. Just like when ripping the Band-Aid, there will be a need for professional TLC. Depending on the nature of the message and how long the employees will be impacted, it is very important to stay in touch with employees and continue to keep them informed; otherwise, employees will fill in the gaps.