Managers don’t spend a lot of time thinking they might be wrong. They do, however, spend a lot of time trying to persuade staff they are right. This is not surprising but if we are so sure we are right, why do we think everyone else is wrong, and how does this affect the way we act towards them?

If people don’t agree with us we assume they have not understood what we are saying and that once they are in possession of the full facts they will come round to our way of thinking. Isn’t this the real motivating behind those ”consultation” exercises? And isn’t this the purpose of the “discussion” in the senior management team or the open meetings with large staff groups?

If despite being made aware of the facts they still don’t understand then they must be idiots, right? Either that or they do know the truth but are denying it because it suits their own self interest to do so. Isn’t that when someone says “turkeys don’t vote for Christmas”?

Why are we so sure we are right and so adamant that others are wrong? It’s not just at work either: have you had the right way to load the dishwasher debate? The best way to get to my/your mother’s? Ask yourself how often are you wrong in a day? Hardly ever? 50 per cent of the time? How do you feel about being wrong? Embarrassed? Like when you were a child being told off?

Well that’s not surprising. We learn in school at a young age that people who get it wrong are stupid and people who get on don’t make mistakes, that getting something wrong means there is something wrong with us so we just stick to being right. Once we have used up our arguments if pressed we may say “well it just feels right”.

In our personal life and in our professional life we would concede that we have got things wrong in the past, our problem is conceding this possibility in the present. This is not about admitting you got it wrong after the event or being prepared to say sorry; this is about conceding during the decision making process that you might be wrong.

According to Kathryn Schulz in her book “Being Wrong” that’s why we should ask ourselves, what if I am wrong? She is talking in general terms about all of us but I think it is a question all managers would do well to think about a little more often.

Giving the bad news

I’m giving the captaincy to someone else. Your job doesn’t exist in the new structure. On this occasion you have been unsuccessful. The budget cuts mean we can’t continue to fund your post. There is a lot of bad news around at the moment and it’s down to managers to tell people what they don’t want to hear.

Is there a good way to break bad news? No, bad news is bad news however it is delivered and whoever delivers it. This does not let line managers off the hook, you can’t delegate this task to HR or send a text. Well not if you want to retain any credible claim as a decent human being!

If you are interviewed for a job you know there is chance you will be unsuccessful. If there is a major restructuring you know there is a possibility your job will go. If there are big budget cuts you know there may be no money for your post. If bad news is expected it is less of a shock. Most people say the worst part is waiting to hear. They want a clear time scale for when they will know and the sooner the better. They want to hear first not read about it in the local paper. No one wants to find out from a colleague the bad news that your manager hasn’t yet found the right moment to tell you.

Everyone is happy to ring up the successful candidate and give them the good news but I appreciate a manager who rings up the unsuccessful candidates to tell them the outcome of their interview and provide some helpful feedback.

As a general rule, I feel, bad news should be given face to face. In the current financial climate bad news is often about service reductions. This is a different audience. The politicians and senior managers will talk to the media to explain the budget positions, the tough choices to be made and awkward questions to be answered. But it is the local line manager who finds themselves standing in front of parents of people with a learning disability attending a Day Centre earmarked for closure or relatives of the elderly person in a home to be closed. People will be upset and angry. You are the figure of authority they direct their feelings at.  

You can’t duck this: staff need to see you giving the bad news and not leaving them to take the stick. The services users have a right to hear it direct from management and a right to tell you the problems and distress this will cause. It’s difficult, you probably don’t want the place to close either. It’s not for you to defend the council’s policy or criticise the covernment. You are there to give the facts, explain what will happen next and absorb the pain and frustration. It’s not pleasant but it is in the job description.