Community//

Let’s Not Be Bleeping Robots

We should practice social distancing, not emotional distancing.

As organizations across the country make the tough decisions to furlough or lay-off employees amid the Corvid-19 pandemic, managers and leaders have the difficult task of sharing the bad news, often via hastily scheduled video conferences that lack the empathy such dispiriting dispatches desperately need.

Managers who know their way around the technology certainly have a leg up, but simply Zooming our way through meetings that further upend the lives of people already steeped in uncertainty the same way we’d conduct a webinar on, say, productivity, betrays a lack of emotional intelligence and undermines the reputation of the leaders running these meetings.

We should practice social distancing, not emotional distancing.

Some ideas for improving these calls:

Don’t read from a script in your best robot voice. You may have been given a script with all the details pertinent to the situation at hand. Resist the temptation to read from it and instead try to memorize the gist of the message and share it with empathy and compassion. Think of how your words affect the lives of your colleagues and relate whatever advice and support the company can offer to soften the blow.

Don’t hide behind jargon. Presenting information in language that requires specialized knowledge, peppered with HR and legal terms, often leaves a mixed audience confused and unable to draw the correct conclusions. Instead, speak in clear and unambiguous language. Simplify anything that seems complex. From health-coverage to unemployment eligibility to available grants—anticipate questions and prepare straight-forward answers in advance. Administrative details can be sent via email for reading and reference in emotionally less fraught moments.

Don’t sugarcoat bad news. Managers who beat around the bush with disingenuously polite lead-ins and meaningless platitudes are viewed less favorably than those who communicate with clarity and directness. Plus, by letting people know where they stand in an honest and thoughtful way, managers avoid sending mixed messages that leave room for interpretation, unnecessarily dragging out the uncertainty.  

Don’t become a ghost. Upon receiving bad news, our brain tends to initiate a stress response, releasing cortisol into our bloodstream that inhibits our analytic thinking and problem-solving abilities. As people are digesting the blow they just received, they’ll have lots of questions that will only come to them later when the stress response has abated. Let them know that you’ll be around, and that you’re available to answer questions at any time or direct them to others who can. Make it easy for them to reach you and get the information they need to plan next steps.

Don’t underestimate your own emotions. Emotions are contagious, and the way you feel as you deliver some of the most difficult news your colleagues are likely to ever hear, is sure to have an impact on their moods. Incidental emotions—frustration, anger or anxiety you carry over from an unrelated event or earlier interaction—are particularly insidious, as they can affect your mindset and may cause you to react impulsively to someone’s question or emotional venting. Calm and poise under pressure is what distinguishes those leaders who inspire others even in their darkest hour and who’ll be remembered for their humanity and honesty when people need it the most.     

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