Leadership and Management

9 Tips for Communicating Decisions You Don’t Agree With

A change in business hours, layoffs, a reduction in benefits, a department reorganization, an elimination of bonuses, elimination of casual Fridays: Change in business is as relentless as it is inevitable.

While the rationale for such changes may be for the good of the company, sometimes these decisions are unpopular with your employees. And even if you disagree with the changes yourself, often, these decisions aren’t solely up to you.

So, you’re left with a daunting task: Communicating a decision to your employees that you don’t personally agree with.

How do you communicate a decision to your team when you disagree with it? As a part of management you don’t want to undermine the rest of your leadership team by openly criticizing their decision. At the same time, you must be honest with your employees in order to maintain their loyalty and respect.

It’s a tough task, so here are nine steps to communicating business decisions you don’t agree with.

1. Prepare yourself

Decide the best time and setting to deliver the news. Do you want to sit behind a desk to convey authority or side-by-side with employees to telegraph ease?

Get with another manager to discuss the questions you’ll expect to receive from employees. Rehearse your answers, being careful to eliminate judgmental or critical words from your responses. If you’re starting your discussion with, “You guys will never believe this…” try again.

Prepare any paperwork you’ll need to hand out, such as a new organizational chart or benefits handbooks.

2. Maintain respect

Always talk about upper management or the board of directors with respect. For example, you may say something like, “I know this was a difficult decision for them. Several options were discussed over many weeks and they decided this was best for the longevity of the company.”

If your employees already know you disagree, it’s okay to say, “This isn’t the choice I would have made, but let’s try to implement this change to the best of our abilities. We can always suggest adjustments that will make this work better than we think right now.”

3. Be specific

Provide as many details as you can to explain the decision and how it will affect your team. For example, if a change in business hours means that you need volunteers to start work earlier or stay later, be prepared to present the new hours and how many employees will be needed to fill them.

Be honest if certain information wasn’t shared with you or if you cannot discuss something, and reassure them that you are available to help them support the success of the company.

4. Don’t send mixed messages

Be aware of your non-verbal cues during your discussion. Be calm, direct, factual and confident and watch your posture. A frown, slumping in your chair, sighing, eye rolling, vagueness or hostility can signal your true feelings to your team.

5. Put yourself in your team’s shoes

Think about what you would want to know about the decision being handed down and anticipate their questions and reactions.

Your employees are likely to ask such questions as: Why was this decision made? When does this new policy take effect? How will it impact our team/the company? Should we be worried about our jobs?

6. Remember your remote employees

It’s common today for team members to work from home or work in separate offices. Try to deliver your news in as few sessions as possible in order to maintain the consistency of your message. This way as many people as possible hear the same questions and answers.

If you can’t get everyone in the same room at the same time, either in person or by phone or Skype, then communicate with remote employees right before or right after your in-person meeting to prevent them from hearing the news and rumors from the on-site team rather than you.

7. Allow for venting, not debate

Particularly if the decision is an unpopular or controversial one, you should allow your team time to vent their frustrations.

Keep the discussion professional and focused. Listen to your team’s concerns but make it clear that the decision has been made. Acknowledge that you may not know everything that led to the decision.

If only one or two people seem to have trouble moving forward, one-on-one meetings may be better than a larger group meeting.

8. Set clear expectations

Be sure to communicate what you do and don’t want employees to do when they leave your meeting.

Some suggestions of what to say: “You know the rumor mill is going to go into overdrive. Try to take the gossip with a grain of salt.” Or “Come to me with any follow-up questions.” Or “I will let you know when it’s time to worry. Just keep doing the terrific job you’ve been doing.”

9. Follow up as needed

Your team may ask questions you hadn’t anticipated or may need details that are not yet finalized. Avoid the temptation to create an answer on the spot if you don’t know for certain. It’s perfectly okay to say, “I hadn’t anticipated that question so I don’t know the answer. Let me look into that and follow up with you.” After your meeting in person, it’s then okay to email details that need to be in writing, such as changes to benefits plans or complex policies.

Need more help planning for the workforce of the future? Download our free e-book, How to Develop a Top-notch Workforce That Will Accelerate Your Business.

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  • Michelle Kankousky

    Michelle Kankousky

    Corporate Learning and Development Consultant

    Michelle Kankousky has been working in the HR industry since 2005, focusing on employee relations, performance management, training, onboarding and employee engagement. Currently, she is a Corporate Learning and Development Consultant at Insperity, where she develops and delivers in-house training programs to employees. Michelle holds an MBA from the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

    Other posts by Michelle Kankousky

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