Good Recoveries from Bad Communications (HBR)

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the King’s horses and All the King’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.

But maybe someone in human resources can!

I was reminded of this nursery rhyme when I received a query from an HR manager seeking advice on how to help one of her colleagues. An email announcing news of a reorganization had unsettled employees. It fell to the managers to calm everyone down and try to restore team effectiveness and performance.

This story is not unique; it happens in large and small organizations regularly. People in charge release information in ways that demonstrate a profound lack of sensitivity toward individuals and teams. The communicators, very often senior leaders, mean no harm; they are merely acting without thinking enough about what they are communicating. And so when things are communicated poorly, it falls to managers on the ground to “put Humpty together again.”

If you find yourself having to smooth over a bungled communication, here are some things you can to try to set things right.

Acknowledge the problem. People are upset and confused. You need to note their disgruntlement. To ignore it is to be as rude as the communications directive.

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First posted on 12/30/2009