8

In the past I tended to break unwelcome news when I was expecting attendees to be least stressed & most likely to have time to discuss about immediate concerns - staying clear of any special occasions & Mondays. I suspect this was just me being selfish, avoiding any immediate backlash.

Current example: A few IT tasks are going to be outsourced (reducing my workload, which could affect for how it is received). Non-gradual change is unavoidable, definitely disruptive to the workflow of at least 4 colleagues. I am planning to have a small meeting in which I take blame and train them to setup & use replaced/changed software.

So far, most of my technical communication happens outside of formal non-technical meetings. So without further consideration, I would have had that conversation at short notice at the first suitable opportunity after some days off from Easter holiday, during some otherwise uneventful evening.

I would like to improve my communication in this regard. My obvious goal is maintaining a healthy relationship with everyone on the long term. I may suspect I am doing something badly.. but what kind of factors should I even consider when choosing the right occasion for such conversations with colleagues? (I understand is not quite the same with superiors)

  • 1
    off the top of my head, this is exactly what recurring meetings are for - going over new, updates, progress reports, etc. Are they too far apart and you need to consider adding another "special bulletin" betweeen? – NiRR Apr 21 at 10:33
  • Why would this be "opinion based" more than any question on the site? – Fattie Apr 21 at 15:57
9

Use the "anti-news" pattern.

Simply alert everyone to everything at all times, as the information develops.

  • Don't "break news".

  • Everyone at all times and in all circumstances hates "news".

The concept of "news" is that there is something you didn't know and now - like a small child - you are "being told".

Simply ensure there is no "news" for all stakeholders.

Surprises (even good ones) are not professional and not team-spirited.

You're planning a "special conversation" after Easter: at all times and in all circumstances, teams hate "special conversations" (indeed even if it's good news) because that is the very definition of being in a child-like, information-poor role, instead of being an integrated stakeholder.

Consider open-source software. The "anti-news" pattern is much like open-source software. There is zero "hiding," everyone is a stakeholder, thee ae no "child-like" information relationships.


In the specific example at hand:

  • A week ago (or, whenever this information first came to hand, or whenever you even slightly contemplated it as the architect) you would just openly say to everyone "Hmm, looks like we might have to change to Firebase". Surprises == non-existent.

  • Do this immediately and instantly, specifically NOT "calling a meeting" or a similar "announcement" structure. Spread the word straight away as it happens.

  • A great communications "trick" is very simply described: always ask questions as part of your communication. ("Jane, looks like we might have to change to Firebase. What would you do on that?" "Biff, seems Firebase may be the way to go - your thoughts?" and so on.)

Since you did not tell them yet, first thing when you're back at work just send a casual email to everyone, "Looks like we'll have to use Firebase for the module, anyone about this yet?" or if you're all in physical range just walk over to the sofas and say that.

Good luck with Firebase! :)

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    While I agree with the general idea (sharing information before it becomes a big thing), sometimes that's not possible for e.g. legal reasons etc, or to avoid employees being needlessly worried over something that's out of their control. Do you have any suggestions for how to deal with those cases? – Llewellyn Apr 21 at 16:18
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    @Llewellyn Legal reasons are ok. Otherwise bad things either not happen or happen, and in latter case the earlier they known the better. – max630 Apr 21 at 16:58
  • Hi @Llewellyn ! TBH I don't really follow what you mean. (1) Regarding "legal" issues. This is totally and completely unrelated to this question. (2) You say "avoid employees being needlessly worried....", indeed that is precisely the reason for the "anti-news" pattern. To simply repeat what it says in the answer, if everyone "knows everything" at all times they feel like adults, like stakeholders. If you hide, schedule, rertain or delay release of information, it leads to frustration, dis-inclusion and outsiderism. – Fattie Apr 21 at 17:39
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    ciao @SebastianAguerre ! Hmm, as it says "Simply alert everyone to everything at all times". (Sure, if you happen to be out for coffee and come back, you will hear the news then!) For example, consider Open Source software. Sure, you might be the last to hear that there's a new release on github! :) That's a non-issue. The "anti-news" pattern is just like open-source software. There is zero "hiding". – Fattie Apr 22 at 15:16
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    Everyone may hate news but not everyone hates the approach "wait until there is definite news then announce it" as opposed to "alert everyone to everything at all times, as the information develops", it's endlessly stressful if manager says "I heard <something bad> might happen, I'll let you know if I hear more next week... meanwhile just carry on". ... – lessthanideal Apr 24 at 13:30
5

I think this depends a little bit on just how disruptive this news is. If it truly is a game changer, a special meeting is probably appropriate. If it's just realigning your workflow and scope a little, I'd put it in a normal meeting and make sure you don't make a bigger deal of it than it is.

That said, it's a natural inclination to drop bombs and then hide behind a weekend, larger news, etc. Don't. Your job is to communicate, and that isn't just talking at people. It needs to travel both directions. I'd suggest a Monday. This facilitates:

  1. Giving opportunity for the news to sink in and percolate while being available to answer questions and discuss details throughout the work week, minimizing opportunity for them to spin too far out of control.
  2. Giving colleagues an opportunity to discuss among themselves in a positive atmosphere where you're available to monitor mood and be there to address concerns, encouraging productive dialogue and setting them straight or at least back on task when appropriate.
  3. Showing right away that, for the time being at least, it's still business as usual and you still have a job to do and that you guys are going to figure this out and work through it together.

The uncomfortable conversations are ... uncomfortable. What a fantastic opportunity for growth for you and your team. It's not going to be fun, but it is important and it's a marker for how high you'll allow your ceiling to be. Good luck!

  • (You wonder why this was downvoted?) – Fattie Apr 21 at 14:15
  • @Fattie I would indeed appreciate knowing the concerns people have with both this answer & my question. I asked because it was not yet obvious to me. – anx Apr 21 at 15:53
  • Unfortunately @Rustler this is one of "those" questions. All answers are attracting many downvotes as well as upvotes. People who downvote in this manner never bothe explaining themselves or putting in their own answer. Because of a bug in stackexchange, if you get a few downvotes (even if you have lots of upvotes) the answers are deleted anyway. (ie, "split" answers as well as just "rubbish" answers get deleted.) – Fattie Apr 21 at 15:56
2

It depends.

On the news, the schedule, your colleagues, the impact, the probability... all sorts of things.

Generally, the sooner the better.

Avoid the risk of someone spending three days working on something, only to find it was pointless because of your news but you decided to wait until they were less stressed.

Don't jump the gun.

Even if you find out something early, if it's not certain yet, it's probably best to say nothing.

Prefer signal to noise.

A valuable skill is being able to judge what others might need to know. They probably don't need to know everything, and most people wouldn't be able to cope with the information overload of everyone telling everyone everything if it was tried. Just be careful not to leave someone screwed because they were lacking vital information. Getting the balance right is an artform.

Consider regular updates.

In software development for example, in Scrum, there are daily stand-up meetings where you can mention "blocking issues" to the team; or this kind of news might be more suitable for the retrospective or Sprint planning sessions, which are normally roughly every couple of weeks. If you're not using that process, it might still be worth setting aside a regular time slot with your colleagues to explain the state of play and share this kind of news. If you are a manager or have some other leadership position, regular one-to-ones with your staff will also often be useful for things like this.

Use your judgement.

Any and all of the above might vary depending on the news and the people. (Some people might want to know everything at all times. Others might want to be left alone until they have no choice but to avoid it). There is no universally applicable rule.

  • 1
    +1 especially for Don't jump the gun. Extremely stressful when manager says "I heard <something bad> might happen, I'll let you know if I hear more next week... meanwhile just carry on". – lessthanideal Apr 24 at 13:13

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