Delivering Bad News with EQ
As a follow up to my recent blog about how leaders can use good storytelling to influence positive change in their organizations, here is a great example of a vivid story from Daniel Goleman’s book Primal Leadership: Learning to Lead with Emotional Intelligence. Goleman’s powerful story-telling makes a critical point to leaders when delivering bad news—it’s not what you say but how you say it that matters most.
There was a crisis at the new program of the BBC, the British News media giant, the division. It had been set up as an experiment and it failed. While its 200 journalists and editors had given their best, management had decided the division would have to close.
The executive sent to deliver the news started off with a glowing account of how well rival operations were doing and that he had just returned from a wonderful trip to the South of France with his new wife.
The news itself was bad enough, but the brusque, insensitive manner of the executive incited frustration and rage – not just at the management decision, but also at the bearer of the news himself. The atmosphere became so threatening that it looked as though the executive might have to call security to usher him safely out of the room.
The very next day, another executive visited the same staff. He took a very different approach. He spoke from his heart about the crucial importance of journalism to the vibrancy of a society, and of the calling that had drawn them all to the field in the first place.
He reminded them that no one goes into journalism to get rich – as a profession its finances have always been marginal, with job security ebbing and flowing with larger economic tides.
He invoked the passion, even the dedication, the journalists had for the service they offered. Finally, he wished them all well in getting on with their careers.
When this leader finished the staff cheered.
Goleman’s story illustrates the dramatic difference between the effects these two leaders had on their team despite delivering the same unfortunate news. The first leader drove the group toward antagonism and hostility, while the second inspired optimism in the face of difficulty.
This contrast points to a hidden but crucial dimension in leadership: the emotional impact of what a leader says and does. When leaders drive emotions negatively, as the first BBC executive did, they spawn dissonance, undermining the emotional foundations that let people shine. However, when leaders, like the second executive, drive emotions positively, they bring out everyone’s best—an effect known as resonance.
The second leader was more effective in creating resonance because he connected with the group on an emotional level. Whether he did it consciously or simply through a natural ability to relate to and understand others, he used the EQ skill of empathy to hone in on how the group was feeling and the kinds of values they embraced. His approach demonstrated an authentic expression of human understanding and compassion.
For some leaders, this kind of emotional intelligence comes naturally; others need to learn the skills necessary to connect with and influence others.
Tips to help you build your Leadership EQ:
1) Identify someone in your organization who is adept at reading the political currents and developing strategies and ask this person for coaching.
2) Practice active listening to help you respond more effectively to others. This may involve:
• Listening beyond the words
• Reading body language
• Noticing another’s tone of voice
• Asking more questions to draw out others’ needs, interests, concerns, and objectives
3) Try to speak positively about the strengths and capabilities of others and refrain from criticizing.
4) Develop your skills in preparing and delivering engaging, inspiring stories, speeches or presentations.
5) Take an EQ 360 survey to find out how others perceive you and identify 1-2 areas for targeted growth.
What changes have you seen by using EQ? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!