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As a Superintendent, I am often (daily if not hourly) in the position to communicate bad news. For example, early last week we shared information about a troubling incident involving some of our middle school students. Over the last few weeks I have been able to have lunch with the staff at five of our buildings. Part of having lunch was to talk with staff about how the year was going and part was to share the bad news about what the spring will be like as we establish the budget for 2011-2012. Bad news is not only part of life, it is part of leadership.
The situation last week and looking ahead to what the spring holds caused me to reflect on the ways I want to help share news with the community and staff.
Be honest. Always tell the truth. It seems simple, but when faced with delivering bad news there is often a feeling that avoiding it will help. It doesn’t. Even though it may be difficult at the time, honesty is always the best option.
Be direct. It always helps to just lay it out. Get to the critical information without too much delay. Trying explain away things, people get the sense something is up.
Be kind. Imagine what it would be like for you to receive the same news you are about to give. This will make it easier for you to say things in a compassionate, considerate way. The saying goes, “they may forget what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel.”
Be patient. I have learned that people react to bad news in a variety of ways. Expecting an immediate response from someone may be just as hard on them as hearing the bad news.
We must develop the ability to deliver bad news with grace and honesty – as an individual and as an organization.