Wednesday, February 29, 2012

When There's Bad News, A Little Accountability Goes A Long Way

Don't be afraid to face the music...

There's a situation happening in my kids' school.  We live in a high-growth area and we've been informed that plans are afoot to build a new school and move some of the children there in 2014.  Depending on how invested parents are in a particular school, news like this prompts various degrees of panic and within a few weeks, the rumours were flying.  To allay their fears, some school board officials offered to meet with parents and answer questions.  An email distribution list was created, parents shared their questions and concerns and, since we were no longer officially in a communications vacuum, the rumours died down.  To make things easier for the school officials, we even sent them our questions ahead of time.

Alas, the meeting was cancelled for no reason (at least none that was shared) and postponed for at least eight months.  Follow-up emails were not answered. 

Without the benefit of an explanation for their sudden change of heart, speculation ran rampant and most people concluded that the school board officials had "chickened out" once they saw the questions.  This could be true.  Or it could be something else much less damning but we don't know because we weren't told.  While chatting with a fellow parent, I suggested that no one can get upset with you when you are sharing information in a kind way.  It's a bit of a throwaway line but what I mean is, any time you're in a situation where you have to tell people things they don't want to hear, the medium is almost as important as the message.

I have had many opportunities to share disappointing, unwelcome or just plain "bad" news in my life and I know without a doubt, that it is always better to face the music, stand in front of people, and tell them what you know.  Even if you know nothing, even if you can't answer a single question, you need to stand there, listen to your stakeholders, acknowledge their fears, address what you can, promise to follow up on things and apologize where necessary.  And, where there's an issue of importance to a group of people to whom you're accountable, don't cancel a scheduled meeting.  Even if you think your presence will not be beneficial, be honest and let them decide if they still want to meet with you.  They probably will and if they don't, they'll appreciate your honesty. 


  1. Great advice; I wish all organizations would follow it! Politicians too.

  2. I might be oversimplifying but I just feel that honesty, early in the process, is always easier in the long run.