EI and communicating bad news

Posted in: Technical Track

The customer called us to cancel

And now you have to break this news to the team. This is never an easy meeting. If you have read my previous post about emotional artifacts that manifest in High-Stress remote meetings, you are spot on – this meeting will start with a negative mood.

An option used quite often is to delay the meeting till the team gets to know via other sources ( there are always other sources of getting bad news) and then go through the motions of telling people “officially”. Not recommended!

Quite obviously I am going to ask for this to be an EI+ meeting.
( Read more about EI+ meetings )

But let us try to answer the most important questions first — What do we expect the outcome of this meeting to be?  Why are we having this meeting in the first place? Why can we not just send the bad news by email?

Let me answer this for you if it is your team that you are breaking this news to — You are calling this meeting to take responsibility, and remove blame from the team. Yes, and they are going to watch you do this on video. You will acknowledge the loss, expect people to be emotional, sentimental and in a bad mood, but you will hopefully as a leader be able to rebuild the team’s dispositional affect and support their belief that they did their best.

Plenty of tissue boxes

People will cry if you let them. This is a remote meeting, so you will possibly not see the worse effects of anxiety about their future as a team. But the group speaking to each other has magical healing properties so I suggest you use them.

EI+ meetings derive their foundation from three factors (the base of the Pyramid in this image )

  • Creating Resources for Working with Emotion
  • Creating an Affirmative Environment
  • Caring Behavior

You will be amazed if you actually build an affirmative environment, to see how much the team will stand together. Having laid the ground rules again — no blame, and honest responses, respect for the group, I recommend you describe the communication in its essence and then go around the table with two questions and just two questions:

How do you feel?
How are we doing as a team?

Take notes if you will, but be prepared to listen. This is like drinking from a firehose when this gets going. You will apply the well-known filters that we use to deal with emotions

  • Re-summarize  — look for the causes that are generating the negative emotions. Aiming for a clear articulation of the issues (acknowledge the passion and recognize the problems; dig deeper after handling the emotional outburst)
  • Look for real data — what is the machine/algorithm/monitoring telling us?  ( facts will always clear the smoke, whereas emotions thicken it)

Yes I am responsible

Finally, it is your turn. Owning up responsibility is not a good time to play martyr (or hero). The words you choose to say are not important. In my mind, you will just need to stay honest because the group will simply dismiss any fluff. So simply ask yourself and answer the same questions

How do I feel?
How are we doing as a team?

Inject some good mood

Share some gossip, talk about new products, new directions that you are also responsible for. Bring out the Big Picture. Talk about your recent customer visits. Talk about the good times we had with the customer that just left.

Close it gently

Customer churn is an indicator of issues larger than the ones you will solve on this call. Your job is done as far as the goal of this meeting. Now plan to get your best brains together and whiteboard what needs to change.



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About the Author

I am a Solution Architect and a Google certified Data Engineer. My interests areas include IoT, Serverless functions, Bigdata Analytics, Oracle Middleware (OBIEE, ODI, SOA, Weblogic) and Oracle Database.

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