Tis the season — to get laid off. Most organizations do this in December and January (happy holidays!).

I get it. When a company doesn’t make enough to turn a profit, and when a not-for-profit can’t meet its expenses, then things have to change.

But what also has to change is the crappy way too many organizations communicate this. The good news for us is that we can learn from their common mistakes and do a better job with any bad news we must share.

Here’s a video with a few simple, practical and usable tips for you: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q3W1bA-6_PA

We all have the tendency to distance ourselves from unpleasant tasks and ideas. How we do that often triggers one of the “don’t”s mentioned in the video. We bury bad news. We depersonalize people who are affected. And we ask for sympathy, because we’re good people and didn’t really want to do this negative thing.

As leaders, we also have a propensity to have others review our communications:

  • Lawyers — who tell us to avoid risk, we can’t admit responsibility for anything
  • Marketing, sales and public relations professionals — who tell us that customers, competitors, the industry and general public will see what we’re saying, so we need to keep an upbeat tone on things and support our brand
  • Investor relations professionals (for public companies) — who tell us the same thing about shareholders and investors
  • Human resources professionals — who tell us ditto on the employees we want to stay with our organization

This too often allows us to spread the blame if what we say gets a poor reception — and further distance ourselves from any mess.

It also can trigger three of my communication theories:

  1. The Hydrant Theory — All communications are like a hydrant and reviewers are like dogs — they have to whiz on it a bit to show you they’ve walked there.
  2. The Dog Pile TheoryWhen people see edits made by others, they want to comment, too. Changes pile on top of each other — like grade school kids playing tackle — and the result is a meaningless heap.
  3. The Gruel Theory — When a number of people must review something, put more content in the first draft than you know will survive. People are more likely to remove information than add it. And if your first draft isn’t strong enough, by the time everyone is done, all you have left is gruel.

All of these forces can feel overwhelming. We can put them in perspective by making one decision: choosing to keep our humanity in a tough spot. When we focus on alleviating other people’s pain while coming up with a solution for issues, then we become leaders worth following.