The best thing about a bad story; 2 common mistakes leaders make when delivering bad news
One of the things I enjoy most is helping people tell a bad story. That doesn’t mean I enjoy helping them tell a story badly but rather, helping them deliver a story that people may not want to hear. One of the biggest mistakes I see leaders make is they only tell a positive story, even when they know the news is not good. In reality, a bad story is an amazing opportunity to have a big impact.
When a leader has a difficult story to tell, they will often do one of two things:
a) Stick to the facts.
They will try and explain intellectually why something is happening and detach themselves from it. This can come off as inauthentic and cause people to direct their anger at the person delivering the bad news.
b) Try make it sound good.
This is where they try and tell a positive story about why things aren’t so bad and why the change is actually good.
Either way the impact is often greater uncertainty and a lack of trust. In reality, sharing a bad story is actually a great opportunity to display your leadership and build trust. Two keys to this are:
1. Give people clarity
In times of change or crisis people need a compelling story to help make sense of their world and they look to their leaders to give them one. Quite often all people want to understand is what is happening, why it is happening and how it will impact them. Most importantly they want to see that you care.
People look to leaders to make sense of their world and want to be able to trust that they can navigate them through.
2. Tell the whole story
In lieu of a good story people create their own, and in times of uncertainty that story will often be worse than the real one. By sharing the good and the bad, you give people the opportunity to have an authentic conversation. Even though this may be uncomfortable, it demonstrates that you trust your people and in return, builds their trust in you.
People engage with authenticity, and you can’t be authentic unless you tell the whole story.
Why I love helping leaders tell a bad story is because if they do it well, they can give people the certainty they are looking for, and they can very quickly change people’s perceptions of what the change means for them. Most importantly, in times of uncertainty you can connect with people in a very real and authentic way, and those are the stories we all love best.