When bad news comes I prefer it to come early enough that I can help make a difference. This means getting the news when others that are close to the issue have that feeling that things are going wrong, or maybe they have received a complaint and feel the need to share it, but something is holding them back. These are the moments when there is a chance to turn something bad into something good. Here are three keys to being approachable with bad news:
- First reactions cannot be defensive: Those who take a defensive stance in regards to their initial reaction are actually creating a death spiral for themselves and their team. Others stop approaching them with issues and then the news gets worse, and the amount of bad things happening increases exponentially. Sadly, if they do not realize they are the problem they will continue to defend themselves and their team all the way to the bottom. The right way: Invite feedback and be appreciative for it; focus on solving the problem first with only the customer/issue in mind; only then go back and find the underlining cause of the issue and ensure it becomes a learning experience that is improved upon.
- The trust others have in you: Trust comes from action. Others will not approach you if they do not trust you to do something about the issue. To gain the trust we must simply have a history of helping others, which means stating what we are going to do, doing it, and always caring enough to follow through.
- Your relationships: It is our responsibility to proactively create and maintain strong relationships with those we serve. When a strong relationship exists we are approachable because we are seen as a trusted source that can be confided in, and who will help when there is a need.
We have those customers, co-workers, and people in our lives that instantly tell us when they need help or are frustrated by our actions or inaction. They demand results and demand them right away, and then we comply, learn from it, and everything is good until the next issue (big or small) arises, and we do the dance again. While it is not always the most comfortable experience, we have the benefit of knowing exactly what is on their mind, and the level of urgency it requires.
What about those that are just super nice? We have an easy-going relationship with them, working together is very enjoyable, and even when there is a problem it seems small because they are so nice they don’t want to be one of our problems. Then all of a sudden we are blind-sided by something that has been festering for a long time. It goes something like this:
- Nice person let’s us know of an issue, but they are not upset and they do not make too much of it.
- We catalog the issue if it cannot be resolved immediately.
- The issue slowly sinks to the bottom of the to-do list because the sense of urgency has been muffled by how nice of a person they are.
- They reach out again and let us know there is still an issue, but they may say things like “it is no rush”, or “you are always so helpful”.
- The issue starts sinking to the bottom of the list again, and now it has become one of those never-ending, pending issues, that still does not have a high-level of priority assigned to it.
- They reach out – or worse, their boss or someone else the issue is impacting reaches out and they want to break up with us.
- We go into panic mode and are either lucky enough to save the situation, or we lose the relationship.
How did it all go wrong?
- We did not adjust for their personality; the reality is that they asked us for help, just like someone who may have screamed it, and there is likely someone else that will scream it for them at some point.
- We did not look out for them; it is our responsibility to go the extra mile for them (especially them) in our support. The reality is that they are pressured if they are asking for help, and we are hurting those that are the kindest to us if we do not deal with their issue as seriously or more seriously than we would any other.
- We assumed that their attitude was reflective of the level of the problem;
In summary, we should not let personality types diagnose the severity of a problem, or the urgency needed in finding a solution.
All hard charging and talented individuals get overloaded at times. The worse mistake we can make is to stop or reduce the level of communication we have with customers, team members, and all others that count on us to perform. Communication is the most important aspect of Leadership and during stressful times the need for it is exponentially important.
Our family recently moved into a new house. As part of the move we have had to engage with a few vendors for their services and products. In one example we placed an order over 2 months ago and are still waiting. The only updates we have received have been after I called the individual directly, which was needed after my wife sent multiple text messages. This has happened every other week for the last 2 months with none of the communication coming from the vendor. The answer I have received is that the factory is backlogged and they have not been able to produce product fast enough, and therefore our vendor is waiting on them. We are easy-going customers and to us the message about the inventory issue is fine – as long as we are getting updates and not having to reach out to the vendor multiple times to get answers.
In the example above, two mistakes were made. The first was the vendor not proactively giving us updates which is necessary from a customer service aspect, and especially when there are delays. The second was not returning my wife’s messages when she was making the effort to ask for updates. If he was just keeping us informed we would still be happy customers; hence, the delay is not the issue – it is all about communication.
If you are in a bind for what ever reason(s), I would encourage the following actions:
- Make a list of all the customers/projects/etc. that concern you
- Communicate by giving a regularly scheduled update on each of these
- Communicate with all related parties so that everyone knows what is going on
- Do what you say you are going to do; don’t commit to something you can’t do
- Make near-term and long-term plans so that you can avoid the underlying issues in the future
Communication saves relationships and it provides the time needed to correct issues, improve processes, increase staffing levels, etc. Communicate, communicate, communicate.