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How to communicate decisions everyone will hate

Leadership made a tough decision. Employees need to know. And now HR has to communicate decisions everyone will hate.

Communicating unpopular, yet important, decisions is a difficult job for new and veteran leaders.

From budget cuts and plugs pulled on projects to wage freezes or extra workloads, “communicating unpopular decisions is a task that all leaders will tackle,” says Kevin Eikenberry, leadership expert and author of Remarkable Leadership.

Here’s help – six tactics to help you prepare for and deliver unpopular decisions.

Be prompt

Don’t wait. Share unpopular decisions as soon as you know about them.

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“Once you have the decision and needed information, rip off the Band-aid and share the decision,” Eikenberry says.

This is important because you get ahead of the anxiety that can arise outside of closed-door meetings and the gossip that soon follows.

Anticipate the reaction

Think about how your audience will feel – initial reactions, concerns and questions. You can’t predict what they’ll do exactly, but if you have an idea of how they’ll feel, you can craft a message that answers their immediate needs.

Will they be afraid it’s the tip of a bad-news iceberg? Could they be concerned their roles and expectations will change? Will they want to know a time frame so they can prepare? Or will they just be upset and need to vent?

Anticipating these things can help you gather the most relevant information and prepare to deliver it.

Be clear

This is no time for wishy-washy language to soften the blow. Avoid “maybe,” “might,” ‘kind of,” “sort of” and other ambiguous words.

Describe the decision, what it means to everyone and the next steps.

As long as you considered how the audience will feel about the message, you likely won’t deliver a blunt, cold message.

Recognize resistance

Despite efforts to be sensitive to their reactions, you’ll still get resistance.

Avoid pushing back to their push-back.

“Just like the pressure builds in a can of soda when you shake it, if you don’t acknowledge the resistance to the decision or change, the resistance will continue to build,” Eikenberry says.

Give employees a chance to air their resistance.

They often lose their anger edge as they share it – and might even start to recognize some positive aspects.

Have a real conversation

Unpopular decisions often come as an edict in an email to the masses – and cause an angry whisper that starts in the break room and turns into an outright uproar at the end of the day.

Employees deserve more. They deserve a conversation.

Even if the news comes from a cold corporate email, get together with your people quickly to talk.

Allow enough time and space for people to comfortably – and appropriately – share their reactions and ask questions.

Look to the future

Let employees air feelings and ask questions, but stop everyone short of wallowing in pity or belaboring the issue.

Describe the future based on the unpopular decision and group and individual roles.

“As you help people see the future, they will begin to move toward it,” Eikenberry says.

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