Don’t shoot the messenger! 5 useful tips for when you need to share bad news

Delivering bad news is rarely easy, neither for messenger nor recipient. It is awkward for the bearer of the bad news, and the other party will often feel vulnerable as the receiver. But when it is done right, sharing bad news can improve a situation for all concerned.

When you find yourself in the position of messenger, and want to avoid a shoot-out (incidentally, don’t shoot the messenger’ is probably one of the worst things you could say in such circumstances), it is not so much what we say but how we say it that makes the difference. The best way to approach the situation is to prepare for the conversation, think about what you need to communicate and how you are going to put it across in order to keep the peace and maintain the other person’s dignity at all times.

For some useful pointers on how to keep your script on track, try out the following five tips which should help you to get that difficult conversation right.

1. Do it ASAP. Hard-to-have conversations only become more difficult if you put the inevitable off. Once you’ve had a think about how to deliver the bad news, you should look to have that conversation as soon as is feasible. This is particularly the case if the information needs to come from you; the conversation you will eventually have to have will be much harder if someone else has shared the news first.

2. Get straight to the point. Tell them the reason for your meeting at the start of the conversation, and communicate the main facts straightaway. Beating around the bush and withholding key information will hamper the interaction and may cause frustration to the other party.

3. Put yourself in their shoes. Both when preparing for the conversation and once you have broached the subject, try to anticipate and understand their perspective and reactions to the issue at hand.  Demonstrating you can identify with their position will encourage the other party to be more receptive and open to hearing and discussing the bad news you have to share.

4. Separate the news from the person. It is easy, though erroneous, to interpret bad news as a personal attack. While any offence is more likely to derive from the other party’s reaction to the news rather than your intentions presenting the information – assuming it is not your goal to make the bad news personal – you must be explicit in differentiating between the news and the individual. Separate the specifics of the situation, especially where the person may have made a mistake or been at fault, from their competence or attributes as a person.

5. End by agreeing to a plan for the next step. Tie up the conversation with a proactive agreement on what to do next, albeit only an arrangement to meet again at specified and scheduled time. This ends the exchange on a positive and looks forward to the future with a joint view on where you are headed.

Leave the entrails in the kitchen: 6 steps to plan for future success


“The future belongs to those who prepare for it” 
– Malcolm X.

How unexpected is the unexpected?

In the last week, one of the UK’s leading fashion retailers Republic went unexpectedly into administration putting 2,500 jobs at risk. It was only in 2010 that the business was bought for £300 million by private equity firm TPG and appeared to have a bright future at the time. The immediate issue appeared to be poor trading over the key Christmas/ January trading period, the unusual poor weather and snowfalls hit store sales badly across many market sectors. Whilst it’s always difficult to predict the future, this blog covers a useful technique to help you manage the worst the unexpected can throw at you.

How can you better manage unpredictable events?

In ancient Rome, an augur interpreted the will of the gods by examining animal behaviour and their entrails. Today, few of us would base our predictions for the future on the pecking behaviour of sacred chickens, or the liver of a sacrified sheep.

In fact, many of us would say you cannot predict future events. We may be able to envisage likely outcomes, or have a global notion of what is to come, but improbable events occur without warning, and catch many of us off guard.

But whilst we cannot know for certain what will happen in the future, we can plan for it. And what’s more, we can plan for future success.

To do this, we must shift our focus from the general to the local, because it is in the detail that we sink or swim. Have you thought about specific situations that might arise in the future with regard to your business? Have you planned a strategy to react to them?

In order to avoid being paralysed by indecision when faced with the unexpected, and take measures to ensure future success, we need to home in on the specifics of a situation. When we break this situation down into its component parts, we can identify and develop strategies for what needs to be done. How to do this is outlined below.

Six Steps to Plan for the Future

There are two parts to the process, identification and development. The four initial steps form the identification part, starting by pinpointing the initial problem and leading to building the possible scenarios which derive from the specified problem. Once these are established, the final two steps are the development part of the process, in which the scenarios are explored and business opportunities are predicted and analysed.

1. Identification: problem

Find and specify a particular problem or potentially challenging situation for your business. It is useful to state this as a question. Though the problem can be phrased generally (in terms of concepts rather than specific business facts), it is best to keep it as simple as possible to minimise variables.

2. Identification: decision

Isolate a decision which arises from the problem situation that will need to be taken. You should only select one decision, as your problem should be specific enough to only allow for one variable you can control by a decision-making process. If there is more than one variable beyond your control, refine your problem identification to its simplest form.

3. Identification: forces

Pinpoint the principal forces which will have an impact on your decision. These forces could be economic, technological, environmental, or otherwise associated with your business or your competition, and should relate back to the subject of your decision.

4. Identification: scenarios

Based on the principal forces you have identified, you can now build scenarios which could potentially arise given the forces at play. Of course, the possibilities are infinite, but it is best to restrict your scenarios to four or five plausible future situations. Remember to factor in both probable and improbable scenarios, and don’t forget that a valid scenario may be ‘nothing changes’ (i.e. all factors remain the same in the future as today).

5. Development: scenarios

At the development stage, you need to explore what could happen in the scenarios you have identified, and you do this by varying the forces (identified at stage 3) that affect your decision. By changing the forces and combining the changes produced, you create patterns which illustrate the possible consequences of your decision. These ‘narratives’ allow you to track the possible outcomes of a decision needing to be made based on the outside factors which influence it. A sensible projection for your narrative’s timeline is five years (i.e. what impact will your decision have over the next five years?).

6. Development: actions

You have now plotted out a step-by-step, multi-outcome forecast for your business over the next five years, with the key scenarios identified and explored. The final stage is to analyse these developed scenarios and search for business opportunities within each possible future situation. On establishing the scenarios, some actions to be taken will be immediately obvious. However, it is worth taking the time to explore the narratives you have developed to find potential commercial opportunities and areas for innovation.

Is there a bright future now for the Republic business?

The Republic business has some great brands, a decent website and some high performing store. I remain hopeful that the new owners can reshape the business to save as many of the 2,500 jobs at risk and satisfy its loyal core of happy fashion customers in the next few weeks.

Post-its and pit-stops: how can the humble Post-It help you conquer distraction and get more vital work done?

What did you set out to achieve yesterday? We can wake up each morning with a real focus on what’s most important in life and then find a tide of emails, text messages and voicemails have distracted us from what we really intended to do.

Shame on me, but sometimes a terrible temptation to quickly sit down to check my emails first thing can end up distracting me onto new tasks that I’d not planned on doing. And when I look up at the clock, I end up wondering where so much of the morning has gone?

If I just think about this morning, I got up bright and early only to have two calls before 7AM, one from Australia and another in the UK inviting me to a meeting discuss the challenges of cultural change in banks. At least I said no to the bank meeting as achieving cultural change in banks is a challenge almost on a par with parting the Red Sea.

In this 24/7 ‘always-on’ mobile phone social media world, it’s all too easy to get sucked into a black hole pattern where you seem to work non-stop all day, yet interruptions and distractions – whether self-induced or created by others – prevent you from achieving that action plan in your head.

It sounds simple, but start with writing your action plan down!

If you haven’t written your action plan down, even if only on a post-it note, chances are it is unlikely to get done. You don’t need to publish a multi-page plan in PDF. Putting pen to paper cements your intentions and confirms your priorities. If it’s on that post-it, it needs to get done; if it’s not, maybe it can wait.

We often want to achieve everything, and, especially in the world of business, there do not seem to be enough hours in the day. And you’d be right in thinking that: there aren’t enough hours in the day. Prioritisation, therefore, is key. And the humble Post-It is a great tool to help focus our attention.

Remember to pause

It may be, however, that you aren’t sure what to prioritise. So, take a brief pit-stop. Our day-to-day life isn’t all that dissimilar from Formula 1 cars looping round the track, but, unlike F1 racing drivers, we often forget to take time to refuel and make minor (or occasionally major) adjustments.

When we are overburdened, our minds are frazzled but there’s still work to be done, we don’t want to stop. Just a few more hours should do the trick, right? But we all know taking a rest will refresh us and will leave us better-equipped to take on the world when we return.

More often than not, we forget, choose not to, or feel guilty when we do take a pit-stop. Yet when we do, we afford ourselves the opportunity to take control over our distractions and re-focus our efforts and energies.

Refuel to refocus

Introducing a pit-stop isn’t just about refuelling in our daily lives. Is there something you don’t like about how your company’s latest deal is going? Or you’re not convinced about the direction in which the business is headed?

Take that pit-stop and listen to your intuitions. The pause gives you space to rest but also to reflect: time to think about those minor adjustments. Do you just need to clean the windshield, change a tyre, or make a larger repair?

Taking the time to prioritise, make an action plan, and write it down is vital to conquering distractions. Remembering to pause, slow down and make any necessary changes not only helps to conquer distractions, but it enables you to re-focus and pinpoint what your priorities are. So take a pit-stop and pull out a post-it: what do you need to get done today?

giffgaff: an alternative to your mobile phone service?

Do you trust your mobile phone service to give you the best deal? My bet is that – even if you consider yourself to be someone who’s in the know – at some point you’ve been confused by complicated tariffs, felt cheated on the deal you were sold, or let down by your service. Amongst consumers, this is all too often what mobile phone services are known for.

What does giffgaff offer to its customers?

Enter giffgaff, the type of company that likes to brand its name in lower case. It calls itself ‘the mobile network run by you’ and has been operating for a few years now, providing an alternative, community-based service with the customer at its heart. Its unique selling point is that it offers transparency, value for money and a symbiotic partnership with users: precisely what other providers are thought to lack.

giffgaff is fundamentally a pay-as-you-go service, operating on O2’s network. It offers goodybags’, monthly packages which for all intents and purposes function as a monthly rolling contract, if you choose their auto top-up’ option. Text and minutes are cheap, especially compared with other networks. Many of the goodybags offer unlimited data: and the data is truly unlimited, no secret clauses (but no tethering either). Essentially, you get a straightforward, uncomplicated deal that you can opt out of at almost the drop of a hat.

How does it keep costs down?

The company has a few simple tricks to keep costs down, which reflect their community ethos. No call centres, no high street shops, very little marketing and advertising. Promotion is achieved through word-of-mouth; indeed, that’s how I heard about it.

But this isn’t a cheap scam. A small team runs a modest head office. There’s a number customers can dial if they need help, primarily with credit card issues. Problems are instead solved in the forums by the online user community; you usually have a response within 90 seconds. The giffgaff team asks users what they want through the forum, and the users tell them.

What’s in it for me?

giffgaff rewards its users for their forum contributions in points which equate to real money through its payback’ system: this is reimbursed twice a year, in the form of mobile credit, cash, or a donation to your chosen charity. £1.8 million was paid out in December 2012. Not bad.

It’s a low-cost, efficient business model, and it works. It is, admittedly, not for everyone, but that is its appeal. It’s alternative, honest and it listens: exactly what its users are looking for.

 

Can I get your number? Find out more about giffgaff on its website – how about consulting the online community to see what they think?

What’s up with WhatsApp? Working up a WhatsAppetite

So WhatsApp has topped the paid-for iPhone app chart yet again. The cross-platform mobile messaging application allows users to send messages to other WhatsApp users without having to spend on an SMS, but what is so special about this app that makes it so popular with mobile consumers?

What’s so good if you have unlimited texts already?

In the UK, many mobile users already have a plan that gives you unlimited texts, so the ability to exchange messages for free seems somewhat redundant. Even more so, if you consider that WhatsApp uses the internet plan that you already use for email and web-browsing: no additional costs, but no additional value either?

Not quite. Unlike SMS or MMS communication, WhatsApp allows you to send and receive video and audio messages from within the app, using your pre-existing data plan. I can take a photo, or record a voice message from within a conversation and send it for my friend to receive instantly.

I can upload a media file from my mobile, broadcast my location using my phone’s GPS services, and import and send contact details from within the conversation too. And it’s got more emoticons than you can shake a USB stick at.

All this makes WhatsApp more appealing than texting my contacts in the UK. I can see if my contacts are online, typing, or when they last connected to WhatsApp. I can see if my message has sent, been received, or if it still hasn’t left my phone.

Saving you a fortune in roaming’ text charges

Where WhatsApp really comes into its own, however, is in messaging contacts abroad. If I am out of the UK, and therefore my mobile costs are subject to international charges, I can connect to WiFi and exchange messages free-of-charge as I would in the UK. Sending an SMS or making or receiving a call, on the other hand, would cost me.

A case study: a friend of my daughter has recently moved to Buenos Aires. Being regular texters and facing the expense of cross-continental texting, which wasn’t really an option, my daughter suggested her friend downloaded WhatsApp, which she herself had used to communicate with friends in Spain.

Now my daughter’s friend can visit Iguazú Falls and send the photos straight back to friends and family in London. She can send a video of a tango show to my daughter, who can watch it instantly then record a voice message to tell her friend how she wishes she could have been there too.

How can WhatsApp bring mothers and daughters together?

This isn’t necessarily something for the younger generations though. Mother and daughter keep in regular contact through WhatsApp, which affords a more immediate and personal exchange that email cannot compete with.

It offers a different service from Skype, which generally requires a computer, or at least a very fast connection, whereas WhatsApp can be used on the go to send an instant update wherever you happen to be.

Mobile consumers vote with their feet, and there appears to be a trend towards apps like WhatsApp whose advantages outweigh the pros of other services. This is by no means to say that the humble text message (or phone call) is dead after 20 years of ever-growing usage (declining for the first time last year in the UK).

Those interested in mobile technologies and how fast creative innovation can spread globally in the new world of Mobile Apps would do well to take note of the rocketing popularity of WhatsApp.

 

Worked up a WhatsAppetite? If you like the sound of WhatsApp, you can download and install from Google Play for free, or for £0.69 on iTunes.

Designed by: Carne Associates & modified by Dawud Miracle