Thursday, December 3, 2015

Why Successful People Love Bad News



Source: Bernard Marr,

Everyone loves good news because they make us feel good. News like getting a promotion, winning a new contract, receiving positive feedback, whatever it might be, gives us a buzz. Good news release the happy hormones in our body which lift our mood and provide a natural antidote to stress.
The reverse it true for bad news. We naturally don’t like bad news. Nobody wants to hear that things are not going well, that something hasn’t worked, or we have failed. When we get bad news we often try to push them away or ignore them, because they do the opposite of good news – they naturally trigger worries, stress us and make us less happy.
In this post I want to discuss why we should learn to love bad news. I am concentrating here on bad news in the work and business environment. My argument is that if we learn to embrace, and to some extent ‘love’ bad news, we will become more successful.
At work, bad news are often hidden, brushed under the carpet, or ignored. The reasons for this are that no one wants to admit they made a mistake and we often believe that the bearers of bad news put themselves in the firing line. In the interest of our own career progression and to keep the general mood up, we don’t talk about bad news.
It’s like when we were children. We couldn’t wait to come home and tell our parents any good news. I see it in my children today, they are literally bursting with excitement when they have something good to tell me. However, bad news don’t come out that easily. With my own children I can often tell from the way they behave that something went wrong and it takes me a little while to tease out what the bad news are. As a parent I try to create an environment where my children are not fearful to tell me bad news and where they see it as an important first step to dealing with the issues.
The same is true in business. Leaders are often sheltered from bad news. People around them protect them, because like our kids, they love to only tell the good news, and because this makes everyone feel better. In many instances it is personality or the company culture that make it difficult for anyone to bring bad news.
What we have to do is to change our responses to bad news. Instead of the more natural “oh no, I can't believe it. I don’t want to know” reaction, we have to force ourselves to respond more positively along the lines of: “thank you so much for telling me. I really appreciate that.” This does take some conscious effort and requires extra efforts the higher up you are in the organization because of all the people that might 'filters' the truth.
Many of the most successful CEOs and senior leaders I have worked with over the years are able to react positively to bad news. They create an environment where it is okay to bring bad news. Not only that, the most successful ones proactively encourage people to talk about the things that are not going so well.
They understand that there is a greater danger in not sharing bad news because it hides the things that often need the most immediate attention. The most successful people understand that the result of hiding or sugar coating bad news are that important issues are missed, decisions are delayed, or the wrong actions are taken.
Obviously there is a natural limit to how much bad news people can bring and we need to apply common sense, we don’t want to create a fake environment where bad news are loved too much.
There are three things that really good (and successful) leaders do when it comes to bad news:
  1. They work on the way they personally react to bad news and make a conscious effort to react positively.
  2. They create an environment where bad news are welcome. Where people are expected to rise issues as soon as they appear, rather than hiding them. They often create an environment where the consequences for not telling bad news far outweigh the potential consequences of telling bad news.
  3. They make sure to celebrate turnaround stories: where people have come up and told the bad news, and were the right actions were taken straight away to contain or eliminate the problem. Sharing these stories will help to create the right environment and will send out the signals that it is not only important to share bad news, but that the reactions and consequences are positive.
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