Breaking Bad (News)

While news of change isn’t always bad, it’s critically important to consider your approach to sharing the details of change. Unfortunately, too many leaders approach change communication with a “just the facts” mentality. Facts are subject to massive misinterpretation and will detrimentally decrease productivity when shared without effective change communication.
The elements of effective change communication parallel the six step protocol for doctors breaking bad news to patients. Whether you are sharing news of a difficult medical diagnosis or explaining a change to an employee, this is a complex communication task.
In Breaking Bad News: A Guide for Health Care Professionals, bad news is defined as, “Any information which adversely and seriously affects the individuals view of his or her future.”
Here are the six steps (or SPIKES) and how they relate to effective change communication:

  • Setting – consider the environment or context where you are sharing the news. Make sure that you are prepared for the initial response to the change and are in a place where you can make a connection with your audience. Whether it’s an audience of one or many, you owe it to them to take the time to personally prepare.
  • Perspective – Get the person or group impacted by the change to share their perspective. Find out what they understand about the change and how they are experiencing it. This gives you the ability to meet them where they are in their understanding and adjust your message accordingly.
  • Information – Be sensitive to how much information you share. Many leaders “show up and throw up,” all the nuances of a change. Some people need to know what’s going on and will want the details later. Full information is not useful to most people. Change is a process and people need time. During subsequent communications more information will be needed as people begin to digest the change.
  • Knowledge – As you are sharing an appropriate level of information, be sure to use language that they understand not technical jargon or corporate speak. Share the change a little bit at a time and if possible, check for comprehension.In a one to one situation, pause to let the other person talk.
  • Empathize – this is a skill that goes beyond sympathy. When you sympathize, you acknowledge the other person’s difficulty and offer comfort or reassurance. Empathy is about taking the time to put yourself in the other person’s position and experience the change impact from their point of view.
  • Strategize – change is difficult because of the uncertainty it creates. When you can share a clear plan for the future and help people see their place in that plan, it helps them feel less anxious and uncertain. It also can minimize the stress and the massive loss of productivity that accompanies change news.

Leaders have a responsibility to carefully and effectively explain changes (break bad news.) Effective change communication means the difference between comprehension, understanding and perseverance versus confusion, conjecture and loss of focus.

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