Lots of dogs are scared of thunder and lightning. Grace definitely falls into that category. There is no consoling her. She’s frozen in her fear, unable to comprehend any comforting words or actions I offer. She paces and cowers, wandering around with desperate eyes seeking a reasonable answer to what is happening around her.
As managers, we can set off the same fear in employees by dropping incomplete or surprise news without any warning. Some employees are better able than others to handle these bombshells that hit us. Just like some dogs aren’t bothered by thunder and lightning, others are panicked.
I just heard of a situation where a small staff received the news of a major restructuring within their organization. When the news was delivered, there was no mention of the time frame, so the staff assumed that it could happen any day. For a few weeks, they arrived each morning, filled with fear and apprehension of what news might come. They thought, that at any time, they could lose their jobs. However, it was known by the leadership that the decisions wouldn’t be made for several months, and even then, there would be time to adjust. By accident, the employees discovered the timeline, and immediately felt relief. Of course, there was still anxiety with the unknown coming at some point, but having the facts allowed more time and control for each person to process the whole picture, including their future options, versus living each moment with a sense of dread.
Grace can’t watch the local forecast to see the radar models that warn us when the heavy rains will arrive. So when she’s caught off-guard, without any understanding of the loud crackles and menacing strikes of light, it’s easy to see how you’d be nervous.
As the individuals delivering such news, we often forget that we’ve known of an upcoming project or change for days, weeks, even months. In our attempt to protect employees, we decide to keep it quiet until we know all the details and decisions. But it’s often better to involve those impacted as early as we can, to give them time to process to the changes as well.
In addition to ensuring you deliver information timely and thoroughly, it’s also important that you keep each person’s needs in mind. When you understand how each person processes change, it helps you be more effective in communicating. Do they need lots of details or just the big picture? Do they adjust to change easily? Or less comfortable taking risks? Using reliable and valid assessment tools will help increase everyone’s awareness of their style and therefore make your efforts at communication more effective.
You can prevent unnecessary thunderstorms in your office. Next time you have some earth-shattering news to deliver, remember that others haven’t had the same amount of warning that you probably had. Give as much time as you can, and with as much information as you know, in a way that best suits the receiver (not you). That will allow the best chance for others to adjust in the healthiest way.