We’re not in Kansas anymore. And we're certainly not in 2010 anymore.
The world has changed and so has our preferred method of communicating. Face to face communicating or even verbal for that matter has been de-prioritised in favour of written correspondence – emails, texts or messages via LinkedIn, Facebook or Instagram. Heck, even chats using images is now a thing (fully aware I’m showing my age). But this change has manifested the tendency to rely on or hide behind these little blocks of letters in the comfort of our current environment, conveniently avoiding the confrontation and going about our business without further thought.
A definite change of the times from what once was.
With our apparent diminished ability to communicate in person (directly or verbally) and fully absorb the ever-important non-verbal cues, we seem to also have misplaced our backbone. Our moral compass. Our integrity. Our innate ability to deliver news via direct communication channels. And in doing so our preparedness to advise of bad news, changed plans, circumstances or just the simple management of expectations has diminished also. This in some ways is a follow on from my earlier ‘Ghosting’ posts (see Part 1 and Part 2) but the tendencies to avoid the communication altogether are becoming far too common. In most cases it’s an apparent reluctance to provide the bad news or let someone down. And yes, my field of work likely means I’m predisposed to this on a more regular basis but I’ve been observing it outside of work too and the same trend appears.
For some this may not be relevant or even an issue (congratulations) but for others, I sympathise and having overcome this hundreds of times in the past, here’s a few helpful things I consider every time I need to deliver the message - be it a decline in some form, a last minute change of plans, not delivering on a promise or even the “I’m just not that into you”.
I totally acknowledge that it’s easier to communicate via text or email. But it’s impersonal and purely ‘verbal’ meaning the non-verbal messages aren’t being conveyed. I remember my parents telling me to always deliver bad news in person. Now granted, the globalisation of commerce and technology will likely make this challenging at times but in the absence of meeting in person, here’s what I consider to be the acceptable order of delivery:
Now I absolutely recognise this is my opinion and the circumstances and/or relationships may alter this slightly, but in the essence of the topic – confrontation and message delivery – the above will inevitably achieve the best result. I think deep down we all expect this of our fellow man but are guilty of defaulting our own behaviour to what is convenient.
This is important. We each have a soul and conscience, therefore it’s important to let it show. Our objective is often delivering the message so it’s ‘off our plate’ and one less thing to do. But what about the person receiving the message? How often do we put ourselves in the shoes of the recipient and understand what impact your message is going to have on them? In my line of work there’s often a lot of preparation that goes into a meeting and a last-minute cancellation, via text message, hurts. Particularly when there’s little to no regard for the time invested to date or a suggestion of a reschedule.
It’s easy to get frustrated in the moment but over time I’ve realised that it’s the lack of empathy and consideration that I find the most aggravating, not the misspent time. I’m sure you’ve felt it too when you’re really excited to meet someone and they’re suddenly unable to make it but the only notification you get is a brief message with minimal explanation? You don’t know what you’re more deflated about – the fact or the message itself.
Too often we’re so concerned with getting the message across we neglect the delivery itself and the impact it may have. As a way to overcome this I’d had success by using the 3x A’s – Acknowledge, Apologise and an Alternative. Acknowledge how you think they might be feeling as this shows you’re aware of the impact and despite this, have no other option. They might have invested a lot of time or cancelled other plans to meet with you so it’s important to recognise this. Of course, Apologise for the position or situation your message has put them in and where possible, suggest an Alternative by rescheduling or making other arrangements to follow through. You’ll be surprised at the effect it can have.
It still very much is the best policy. We often want to shield the person from further disappointment or protect them in some way but often this does more harm than good. Or at the very least not have the same positive impact that honesty would. We feel the need to make up a good excuse or paint ourselves in a positive light rather than just being truthful. Can you think of a time you’ve said “something’s come up” or “I’m not feeling well” to get out of an event when in actual fact you simply forgot, didn’t manage your time well enough (very guilty) or are no longer interested simply because you’re concerned for their feelings and/or how you might be perceived? We’ve all done it. Of course we have! But people respond better when you’re being honest and transparent. And I’m speaking from experience here.
Recruiters are regularly faced with the need to have confronting and challenging conversations and one frequent circumstance is providing feedback to candidates. We often try and protect their feelings, particularly following an unsuccessful interview by giving reasons that they’re likely to see as out of their control eg: there was someone else with more experience. Whilst this is an easier conversation to have, it isn’t arming them for their next interview nor creating a relationship of honesty and trust. As part of my personal development and commitment to candidates, I’ve tasked myself to always provide precise and honest feedback even when somewhat unpleasant. And EVERY single time, it’s been well received, and I’ve been thanked for the honesty. I think these days it’s far less common to be honest and upfront at our own consequence so perhaps that’s why it’s been so warmly welcomed. But regardless of the why, the reality is that it WAS looked upon favourably and I don’t feel it’s a coincidence.
Written messages remove the non-verbals so therefore we need to compensate. I challenge you to put yourself out of your comfort zone and address the above next time you need to deliver a message that may be somewhat unfavourable or unexpected. Sure, circumstances are always going to challenge this as a silver bullet all-encompassing approach, but from my widely applied, personal experience (consisting of many trials and errors) it’s been a pleasantly surprising experiment to run. And for me, the results speak for themselves so it’s well worth a try.