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May
15
Brady Wilson

During re-entry of the Columbia shuttle on February 1, 2003, the craft disintegrated, killing all seven crew members on board. It was later discovered that warnings and concerns about potential damage were suppressed, resulting in this stinging statement in a follow-up report: “NASA’s organizational culture had as much to do with this accident as the foam did.” Investigators said the culture was characterized by “barriers that prevented effective communication of critical safety information and stifled professional differences of opinion.”

The Columbia disaster is only one example highlighted in a Harvard Management Communication article, How to Get the Bad News You Need.  It states that few executives actively engage in suppressing the flow of information, but the absence of policies and procedures to encourage employees to speak up, actually encourages them to keep vital information to themselves. The threat of embarrassment, humiliation or career damage is a silencer that can be overcome using some of the following strategies:

  1. Promise not to kill the messenger, then don’t. Let people know they won’t get into trouble for revealing bad news, by standing behind them.
  2. Be aware of your own emotional response to bad news. If you pound your fist on your desk, let the messenger know your anger is directed at the situation, not the person.
  3. Respond. Not responding to bad news, or simply remaining silent may discourage the messenger from coming forward in the future.
  4. Avoid interrupting or patronizing the person, or changing the subject while they deliver bad news. These actions demonstrate disrespect.
  5. Demonstrate trust in employees by sharing numbers or plans, and be willing to acknowledge your own mistakes.
  6. Create “events” where honesty is expected and demonstrate that “honesty” behaviour is okay.

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Brady Wilson

Brady Wilson

Co-Founder of Juice Inc, Thought Leader & Author

Alex Somos

Alex Somos

Co-Founder of Juice Inc.

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Michael Torrie

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