A few days ago we were at a tiny restaurant on a small side road in Cairo for a local delicacy: stuffed pigeon. It tasted great, but as you might imagine there was very little meat on the small, bony frame. One friend said, “The pigeon is just a carrier for the rice,” and another friend returned, “I guess that makes it a carrier pigeon.” I always hate it when somebody beats me to a bad pun.
As leaders, we are all “carrier pigeons” because a large part of our job is to deliver news to those under our leadership. (BTW, you don’t have to be the CEO of a company before this applies to you. All of us are leaders in some respect in the sense that all of us have relationships where people look to us for leadership–even if it is just our children.) Sometimes that news is bad news. Bummer!
The good news is that there are ways to help us deliver bad news.
- Make the delivery in person, if possible.
If the interaction is face-to-face you can add good body language to help in the situation (more on that below.)
- Do as much as you can to minimize embarrassment and loss of face.
Try to make the meeting in a place that is private, quiet, and serene.
- Find something nice to say before and after the bad news.
Remember: The “bad news sandwich” is much easier to swallow.
- Keep your voice soft and full of compassion.
- Be prepared for a bad reaction.
Before the meeting, visualize (but don’t expect) the person to be upset or angry. Then visualize your calm, reassuring reaction to his outburst.
- Use body language to your advantage.
Broadcast warmth, care, and concern in your posture and facial expressions. This is done by:
1. Not fidgeting;
2. Maintaining more eye contact than normal;
3. Opening your body posture;
4. Pointing your toes toward her;
5. Keeping your hands soft and open toward him.
One of the most important things you can do as a leader is to be proactive before the negative news needs to be delivered. Deliver as much good news as possible every day so those around you see you as a “good news person.” Research shows that if a person delivers more bad news than good news, the receiver will develop a negative attitude about that person; the opposite is also true. (Did we really need research to know that?!) So, be constantly delivering good news to your coworkers so the bad news will be easier to take.
After all, you don’t want the “carrier pigeon” to be eaten if that pigeon is you!