Merge's Blog

How to communicate sensitive messages

TimBreithauptSometimes you will have to make decisions that will not be liked by your staff; it’s one of the responsibilities of leadership.  While you can’t avoid making unpopular decisions, there are things that you can do to help your team understand and accept the new reality.  Which is why I am so pleased to welcome today’s guest blogger.

Tim Breithaupt is first and foremost my professional colleague and friend, but he is also the founder and president of Spectrum Training Solutions. As a leading expert in the area of sales development, Tim delivers real-world wisdom to foster a level of sales confidence that boosts sales results to exciting new levels.  Today he joins us on the blog with some specific advice on how to communicate sensitive messages.

Communication is fraught with challenges at the best of times. Ample research suggests that managers and leaders struggle with the task of communicating sensitive messages.  One such example: unexpected changes to job descriptions and responsibilities. By tweaking your delivery (or as I like to say, your bedside manner), you will experience a smoother flow to your message and elevate your communication confidence. To that end I share a proven four-step model that helps to mitigate stress and communicate with impact.

Step #1: Acknowledge “personal impact”

Given our high preoccupation with self we are constantly thinking about ourselves and how situations will “impact” us. For example, if your manager asked you to meet with him or her tomorrow morning at 8 am, chances are you would fret about it that evening and play different scenarios in your mind, most of which are negative. Some might worry about their job, their income being affected, a demotion, departmental changes or their future with the company.

Hence, the best way for a manager to begin the conversation is to address “personal impact” and put the employee at ease. You could begin with, “thanks for coming in, and not to worry, you still have a job and we appreciate your work” or “I need to share some pending changes, but you’re going to be ok”.  Open by talking about them, not your agenda. This approach is an essential step towards tweaking your bedside manner and acknowledging that this is a sensitive message. 

Step #2: Understanding

Once personal impact issues are addressed the employee will move to a point of understanding and more readily accept the message. 

Step #3: Acceptance

Now that they understand the message, the employee will begin the process of acceptance. They may not like the message but they will understand the rationale and begin to accept it.

Step #4: Trust

Once understanding and acceptance are in place the employee will develop a trust for the changes and become fully engaged, trusting management’s decision.

The problem is that managers and leaders often communicate by jumping in at step #3. Managers have had time to digest the message and do their own process of personal impact, understanding and acceptance. Hence they leapfrog steps #1 and #2 and expect employees to instantly land at step #3 and accept and embrace the message. That won’t happen as long as personal impact issues remain. When it comes to sensitive messages, you must first and foremost address step #1, personal impact, the “ok, but what about me?” factor. Once that’s addressed you will find a much more receptive, trusting employee.

So … I would love to hear your take on this subject.  What have been your successes and failures?  What tips do you have to share?  Please add your Comments below

Learn more about Tim and his custom sales training programs and keynote presentations at his website:  Or reach him at 403 (269-2626).

If you’d like some more ideas on how to communicate unpopular decisions and sensitive messages to your staff, then read this column that I penned for

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