Hearing Bad News

On Tuesday, David Greenfield (a very smart and insightful technical manager I met a couple of years ago) posted this comment:

“The most challenging part of managing for me is learning how to deliver (or accept ) bad news to (from) those who report to me.”

David’s point is important.

Here’s some bad news I’ve heard as a manager:

“I’m quitting.” (from a key contributor.)

“It doesn’t matter if he’s not doing any work. You can’t fire him. We just settled a protected class lawsuit, and we can’t risk any more bad publicity.”

“I’m not going to finish my code when I said I would.”

“We’ve just moved the release date in by 4 weeks. You have to be ready a month sooner.”

“The scope is not negotiable.”

“We though we could use BLOBs with this database, but we can’t. We have to find a different way to communicate with the database or scrap the database.”

“We’re cutting your budget.”

grrr. This list gives me a sort of sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach!

Hearing bad news is hard. And it’s easier for me when I can reframe it as “information about the current situation.”

And it’s easier to hear bad news as information when I believe I can handle the situation. It’s easier to deliver unwelcome news when I believe the other person can handle the situation (and I can handle their response).

(A little piece I wrote about hearing bad news here.)

I suspect for a lot of us, perfection rules come into play when we hear bad news, too. More on that another day.