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Pawel Brodzinski on Software Project Management

Selling Bad News


Some time ago I had an interesting exchange of arguments. It all started with some difficult decision which was communicated to one of team members.

“You should have use recent reorganization as a reason and not tell the guy he failed with tasks he had. He would have taken it better” I heard from a colleague.

What the hell?

I mean yes, he would have taken it better. I would postpone the problem but it would come back bigger and stronger to bite me head off. But it isn’t the worst thing. The worst thing is I would finally have to put my cards on the table – tell the real reasons standing behind the decision and this would be exactly the moment when the whole trust I built would make “puff” and disappear. Basically this would be the end of our cooperation as the guy would feel betrayed, which would feel so proper by the way.

So no, I choose to be honest and straightforward. I choose to deliver critical feedback even if I see no way to sweeten the thing. Yes, I risk being called an asshole but if I prefer to use arguments and not excuses even if the latter hurt less. In the long run that’s how you build trust.

in: communication, team management

4 comments… add one

  • coldfusion February 25, 2011, 1:23 am

    The critical feedback or any feedback is the most often missing thing while communicating between managers and team members.
    Don’t be afraid to tell your opinion about somebody’s work, especially when there’s something wrong. It gives chance to improve. Otherwise you will stuck with the team member that is feeling good about himself, not knowing that they screw up.

  • Pawel Brodzinski February 25, 2011, 3:53 pm

    Yes, that’s another issue. Managers often take a step back when they have a difficult message to deliver. This is a typical lose-lose – a team member doesn’t learn what’s wrong and a manager risks relationship and is stuck with the situation for good.

  • Le Do Hoang Long February 27, 2011, 7:08 pm

    This is a good blog post about the benefit of honesty. I agree with most of it.

    But think reversely, doesn’t this attitude have some risks to lose a good team member? He may feel bad about himself, he may leave?

  • Pawel Brodzinski February 28, 2011, 1:09 am

    If someone isn’t happy with the situation around creating a fiction to cover it won’t change the situation itself. Team member will be unhappy this way or another – the only thing you have influence on is whether they’d eventually learn by themselves (and learn about your manipulation at the same time) or whether you openly state what the situation is.

    I find one more thing which works very well in honest approach – you clearly set a starting point. Even if someone is unhappy with the decision they know why it was made and what has to be improved to have the decision changed.

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