Leadership Communication: Good news, bad news, no news, it doesn’t matter.

William AuxierblogLeave a Comment

More years ago than I care to admit, while I was with US Surgical Corp. (USSC), I was promoted to Regional Sales Director. In that role I was in charge of a small sales team with a multi-million dollar sales objective. USSC did a terrific job training new managers. Each new manager received intense training in the corporate office and in the field. Tenured managers spent time with the rookies, teaching packaged training programs like the One Minute Manager, along with internally created training modules and programs. One of the older and wiser upper managers that helped train me had a saying that stuck with me. I have used this countless times. His saying went something like this:

If there’s good news on Wall Street, what happens to the price of stocks? They go up! When there’s bad news on Wall Street, what happens to the price of stocks? They go down! And what happens to the price of stocks when no one on Wall Street knows what’s going on? That’s when the price of stocks drops through the floor!

Lesson: Lack of communication makes people assume the worst.

This is so true! Good news is, well, good! Good news is easy to deliver and easy to receive. Bad news stinks! No one I know likes delivering or receiving bas news; however, it is better to know. Bad news can be dealt with and then you can move on. The most powerful part of this lesson is the lack of clarity with no news or confusing news or conflicting messages. For some reason, human behavior assumes the worst.

A recent study by Giles Story at the Imperial College London, University College, supports this concept. In this study, researchers attached electrodes to study participants that delivered electrical shocks. These shocks zapped study participants causing minor pain that ranged from a slight buzz to a strong prick. Study participants were allowed to choose one of two options; 1) they could receive mild shocks at random intervals for a period of time no longer than fifteen minutes or 2) a stronger shock more immediately. 70% of the study participants chose the second option, receiving the more painful shock more quickly. An overwhelming majority chose greater pain now over the unknown anticipation of when lessor pain was going to be delivered.

When there’s good news, deliver it! Everyone likes that! When there is bad news, deliver it! People prefer that over the dread of not knowing. When it’s not clear if there’s good news or bad news, when there is uncertainty, it is essential to deliver a clear message, even if that message is that there’s no news to report. When delivering the “no news to report” message, that message must be accompanied by another message with great clarity describing everything that is being done to deliver the news, good or bad, as quickly as possible. The key is delivering a message that diminishes uncertainty as much as possible. What happens when no one knows what’s going on? That’s when everyone assumes the worst!

Please take a minute and leave a comment below and let me know what you think, regardless if it’s good news or bad news. Good news or bad news is better than no news!

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