• Jonathan Bullock

4 tips for delivering tough messages


When's the last time you had to deliver a tough message to a group of people? Even if you head up the best team or the most effective company, there will be occasions when you must address problematic issues.

It's fun to celebrate victories and give positive speeches. However, discussing flaws and opportunities for improvement is vital for future success. As leaders, we must do both effectively.

Tough messages need to be clearly understood, so think about the recipient when planning what to say. Your aim is to instil confidence and motivate your people to do better. Here's how:

1. Demonstrate your willingness to engage in open conversation

You must be willing to participate in the conversation. If questions aren't being asked, tease them out. Anticipate some questions that your people may have and start with a difficult one. This shows that you're open for discussion and genuinely interested in finding a solution.

2. Spread the impact

Help others understand why a particular choice was made or what good can emerge from the decision or event. This usually comes after the context and direct message, although I start with it in some cases. I find that beginning with the 'why' can be a more practical approach to capturing and retaining attention.

3. Give some background

Tough messages are hyper-delicate and you can't predict how they will be received. Each person listening will respond uniquely, depending on how they are individually affected. As leaders, we must acknowledge this and show people the bigger picture by giving context. I frequently start by telling a story, giving an example or using a metaphor to make things more relevant.

4. Be forthright

Get ahead of any challenging message and communicate it clearly and concisely. Hesitation puts you at a disadvantage and undermines trust. People will begin to form their own conclusions, and the grapevine will take over. Communicate a challenging message to critical audiences as soon as possible – and in a methodical way.

TAKEAWAY: Tough messages needn't be depressing. When communicated well, people will appreciate your honesty and may be more devoted to the outcome. Sharing a challenging message effectively can bring you closer to your team, develop trust, boost confidence and be motivational.


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