April 14, 2008
I was asked in an interview by Lyneka Little of TheStreet.com about when to break controversial news to your boss?
The answer: Immediately.
Delaying the release of such information, for whatever reason may have critical consequences. We should remember that we do not have the whole picture, while management does or at least should. Our consideration of the "right" time may not coincide with management's priorities and obligations.
The minute we are made aware that something is wrong we become responsible. The etymology of the word responsible comes from the Latin word responsa which means answer or answering to. To be responsible is to be able to give an answer to, or be accountable.
We all remember the question asked during the Watergate hearing: "What did you know and when did you know it."
Most importantly the negative information is not ours to keep or delay. It belongs to the company.
It may be particularly distressing to bear the bad news when we are the cause of it!
It will be helpful to anticipate the reaction and be prepared for the questions that might be asked. We may want to suggest a plan of action or even a solution that could mitigate the negative impact of the bad news.
It is true that "no one loves the bearer of bad news" but acting responsibly and ethically will be recognized and remembered.
Breaking some bad news may also give us the opportunity to show courage.
As C.S. Lewis once said:
"Courage is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means at the point of highest reality."