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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Tips for Delivering Bad News

By Guest Blogger Kathy Horn

As the president of my homeowner’s association board, I recently had to deliver news regarding the need for a special assessment to cover unanticipated repairs to our pool decking. Two-thirds of homeowners would have to approve the special assessment for us to be able to make repairs. Given the current economic environment, the timing couldn’t have been much worse. I tend to be very analytical and my approach to problem resolution follows: research the issue, determine options, and select the “best” option from the bunch. Unfortunately, when you ask the owners of 225+ homes for money, their opinions and emotions come into play!

So, what’s the best way to deliver tough news? In my experience, whether you are delivering news that your audience considers negative or simply explaining change (we all know how much most humans like change!), there are some basic protocols that can help:

  1. Do your homework! Ask questions of the “experts” you’re dealing with. Don’t be embarrassed if you do not understand what they are telling you or their recommendation. Make them explain. You can’t know everything. The Internet is a great resource to gather information, but you may find that the answers you get conflict by source. Log all your questions and add to the list as you go. Answer the old basics: who, what, when, where, why and how.

  2. Lay out all your options. You don’t have to like them, but you should consider ALL options (including “do nothing”—what if we don’t open the pool this year?).

  3. Investigate any vendors you deal with. Check the Better Business Bureau and ask for references. Get everything in writing.

  4. Be prepared to have your audience question what you did and why you made a particular choice. If you’ve done your homework, you will have most of these answers. The goal is to build your case and show that you have done the necessary due diligence. Several owners came to the open meetings intending to vote against the assessment. After hearing the presentation and getting a better feel for the amount of research we had done, they all changed their minds.

  5. Communication is paramount. Communicate early and often, and keep records of everything that is communicated. When confronted with change, people tend to push back. It’s important to give them sufficient information to gain their acceptance and trust that you have made the best decision.Note that you may not want to communicate 100% of the information you have garnered through your research, but you should provide documentation that explains the options you considered and justifies your decision.

If you have to present information that you feel will be negative, controversial or are concerned that people will be upset, plan out how and when you will deliver the news. Ideally you will not deliver the news until you have done your research, but sometimes it gets out anyway; be prepared to hold a pre-meeting meeting. If you don’t know the answer, say so and then find out.

Include in-person meetings whenever possible to allow the audience to ask questions. You do not want to be in the position of answering questions one at a time via email! I have found face-to-face meetings to be much more effective than phone calls, email or video conferencing. When all else fails, a large bottle of Tums just might help!

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