Communicating A Hard Truth

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Communicating a Hard Truth – A potential hazard or an opportunity to lead through difficult times?

Communicating can be a challenge in itself at times, but delivering a message that you know will not be easy for your audience to hear presents a whole new set of challenges.   It can also be a great opportunity for you to grow as a leader and use difficult messages as a pathway to lead your team through difficult times.


Here are five ways to help you do just that:

  • Understand your audience
You cannot control how people will respond to your message, but you can prepare yourself by understanding who you are talking to and their likely reactions.   Often when given bad news, people move into a defensive mode.  Their fight or flight response is triggered and they stop listening.  This can lead to misunderstanding, misinterpretation, confusion and uncertainty.  When you understand how best your audience likes to receive difficult information, you can adapt your communication style to meet this need.  For example, some groups respond best to an unemotional, direct style while others may need a lot of information and time to take that information in.  When we develop range in our communication style, we are much better equipped to handle out of the ordinary situations.
  • Be clear about what’s at stake and give yourself full permission

What this conversation is in service of i.e. what is the longer term goal here and how is the team or team member going to benefit in the long run?  Once you are clear about what is truly important about this decision or change, give yourself full permission to say what needs to be said in the way that best serves the team and the situation.  Your team and your employees will look to you as the person who will get them through this situation to the bigger vision – they need to trust that you can get them there.  By being clear about your message and standing by your decision will create greater trust.

  • Be aware of your impact

The impact we have on others, both positively and negatively, is often something we are blind to.  In fact we are often more aware of what we find difficult than what we are naturally good it.  This is particularly true of impact.  Spend some time thinking back to similar situations – what’s the most common reaction in other similar situations?  Just be really honest with yourself, what positive impact do you have  i.e. directness  that  creates clarity and what is your negative impact i.e. too much directness that leads to disengagement and hurt feelings?  Once you are clearer about your natural strengths in this area, you can decide what you would like your impact to be and work on ways to create that impact.

  • Allow time and space

Understand that the initial response will often come from shock and give people the time they need to assimilate what you have told them.  Let them know who and where they can go to for support during this time.

  • Reopen the discussion once the dust has settled

Once people have had a chance to process the information, discussion can take place about the way forward (if appropriate).  Having had time to digest the news, discussion can take place on next steps, creating a path for change, a new direction or a new way of working that has your team with you rather than against you.

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Article by Fiona Monks