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Accept bad news with aplomb

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in Leaders & Managers,People Management

Nearly every manager’s day includes a little bad news. The real test is how you respond. Overreaction works against you. If you sigh, grimace and act aggrieved, you may think that’s the appropriate way to signal the importance or gravity of the situation. But the messenger will conclude that you’re an ineffectual leader who’s in over your head.

Losing your composure is even worse. Yelling or fist-pounding might help unleash your fury, but it comes at a cost: Employees and peers will keep you out of the loop. They will avoid you—or lie to you—rather than get a close-up glimpse of your temper.

To control your response, make timing your friend. Decide when to react before you decide what to do. Count to 10 or watch the clock advance to the next minute. Use the time to consciously delay your outward response to the bad news.

By remaining physically still as you process adverse information, you buy time to choose what to do or say. And you won’t alienate the messenger.

Imposing a cushion of silence also allows you to think through your options. Should you ask questions to learn more? What are the most important issues you need to clarify or prioritize? What steps can you take to mitigate the damage?

If you decide that reassuring people will motivate them, acknowledge the bad news while placing it in context. Separate the short- and long-term consequences. Describe the likelihood of an optimistic outcome. Identify what factors are within your team’s control versus what’s beyond everyone’s control.

For really bad news, you may need a few minutes alone to regroup. Walk around the block to clear your head.

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