Ask any manager and they’ll likely tell you that delivering bad news ranks among their most dreaded leadership tasks. Whether informing an individual of their position’s elimination or discussing unpopular company-wide changes with the whole staff, saying what others don’t want to hear is downright difficult.
Managers of remote teams aren’t spared this discomfort just because their listeners aren’t physically in the same room. In fact, they oftentimes need to be more sensitive about delivery in order to ensure understanding, judge reaction, and not come off as “cold.”
Take the following into consideration when circumstances require delivering bad news in a remote environment:
Watch the timing.
In an office, news affecting multiple parties tends to be given to everyone at once. This action keeps rumors and inaccurate news from circulating, and it prevents workers from feeling slighted that others heard first.
Managers of remote teams often benefit from synchronous communication for the same reasons. Control over release can be even more important because information (and misinformation) can spread incredibly fast online from one virtual employee to another.
Got a hybrid workplace? Be sensitive that people who work remotely commonly think of themselves as “always the last ones to know.” You don’t want to make them feel like an afterthought.
Choose delivery method carefully.
Unfortunately, the fastest ways to spread news are not automatically good choices.
“Bad news is almost always communicated best in as richly a manner as possible,” says Wayne Turmel, co-founder of the Remote Leadership Institute. “We have to balance the need for speed and consistency with taking feelings and emotional reactions into account. People need to not only get the data/facts, but will have an emotional reaction as well that will need to be addressed.”
Thus, while a text or IM has speed in its favor, such a message can lack substance and come across as cowardly or curt. Relegate them as notifiers.
“They should be used to get attention and drive people to where they can receive details of the announcement: ‘There’s an important announcement. Please join this call/meeting or check your email for more details,’” Turmel says. “Because you can’t guess where people will be when they receive your news, it’s best not to catch them off-guard or in a place where they’ll be emotionally vulnerable. Prepare them for what’s to come, but don’t make the announcement itself this way.”
Email is good for providing everyone with the same message at the same time and for allowing ample space for explanation. However, it still can come across as uncaring and doesn’t immediately set up an exchange for questions or clarification.
Managers often consider video conferences the next best thing to face-to-face meetings. By allowing subtle factors such as tone and facial expression to come through, this medium provides a somewhat personal aspect. Also, the set-up allows for in-the-moment conversation. Likewise, a video chat (or a phone call as a last resort) tends to be preferable when delivering emotional news to a single person.
Offer a follow-up.
Finally, remember that unwanted news takes time to sink in. After “dropping a bomb,” think about the aftermath. You may want to schedule a group question-and-answer session in a few days, provide an idea of when further information will be available, or encourage contacting you as concerns arise. The news may still be hard to digest, but at least employees will know you’re doing what you can to make it more palatable.
Photo Credit: bigstockphoto.com