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Don’t Kill the Messenger

Updated on November 30, 2010
Bet he didn't like having to give anyone bad news either.
Bet he didn't like having to give anyone bad news either.

Don’t Kill the Messenger

Ever had to give the boss bad news? If so, chances are you approached the task with trepidation, feeling out his mood first, tapping on his door ever so lightly, asking if he had “a sec”. You may have engaged in a little small talk before dropping the bomb. And if you’re a boss that’s been the recipient of bad news from an employee, you probably felt at least a little resentment towards that employee, however subconsciously.

I’ll never forget an opportunity I had to give an employer beneficial, even critical insight. I’d only been there a few months, but long enough to have formed some fairly strong impressions. The training coordinator approached me one afternoon and asked cheerily, “Well, what do you think?” So I told her. In essence what I told her was that they had a disloyal, cost-conscious, and ever-dwindling customer base, aggressive competition in the low and mid-range price markets, and that if they didn’t make serious changes in how they did business, they’d be out of business in a year. Her jaw dropped. She asked me to elaborate, and I did, giving her specific examples to support my opinions. As I spoke, I could see the tension building in her expression. She clearly did not want to hear this (and neither would management). I then offered suggestions to help remedy the situations I’d spoken of, but the conversation came to an abrupt halt.

Shortly thereafter I noticed my manager and other higher-ups behaving contentiously towards me, and within a few months - having read the proverbial writing on the wall - I found another job. In all fairness, I should note the company was not out of business in a year; it was closer to 18 months.

Had management at least considered my comments and recommendations objectively, they may have seen that I was not trying to criticize or tear down the company; I was trying to be helpful and share valid, yet admittedly unpleasant, observations. But, they chose to kill the messenger.

No one likes to be the bearer of bad news, and no one likes to hear it, especially if you’re the person that has to deal with the unhelpful development. The competition has beaten you to the punch with a new product rollout; your senior I.T. person is about to jump ship for a more lucrative offer; someone is sneaking product out the back door after hours. You don’t want to hear it. But, hear it you must, and your employees must be encouraged to bring you these sad tidings, as no matter how bad the news is, knowing is better than not knowing.

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