Bregman's exhortations to confront difficult moments seems like good advice. But is it always right to "lead with the punchline" in a meeting or when managing—especially when the news is negative?
I asked Mike Wagner, the Advisory Board's Chief Teaching Officer and a fellow Harvard Business Review contributor, for his take.
"We would argue that especially when the news is negative, you should lead with the 'bad news first,'" Mike told me. "People are perceptive and they can tell when something negative is about to be said. To delay the news is to both disrespect your colleagues and damage your own credibility."
"And delaying the negative is disrespectful because it takes away the colleague’s opportunity to receive the news, react to it, ask questions—it treats them as fragile and difficult, rather than as a professional who seeks the truth," he added.
So what are the steps to delivering a negative message—to successfully navigating a "cringe moment"? Keep it simple and direct, Mike says, and stick to three basic steps.
- Negative news: Articulate the negative behaviors to be corrected or the negative news to be delivered;
- Reasons: Explain what would have been acceptable behavior or why the negative decision was necessary; and
- Next steps: Explain what will happen if the negative behavior continues, how the employee can be considered for future opportunities, and/or what the staff member is expected to do in support of the decision.
Update: Given reader interest, we've put the entire interview with Mike Wagner online.