Communicating Difficult Decisions When You Can’t Be Fully Transparent…

When you have to communicate a difficult organizational decision, it’s hard to know how much information to provide, particularly when you can’t be fully transparent yet. Saying nothing can undermine people’s trust, and saying too much can leave people feeling overwhelmed. You can strike the balance by being candid—up to a point.

Frame the situation’s context clearly so people understand why the organization is considering big changes. Explain that you’ll be as transparent as possible, use plain language (not corporate-speak), and respond to questions. People appreciate honesty, even if the message is incomplete or not what they want to hear. Be precise about what you can say now and when you’ll say more, providing an overall timeline for the process. But avoid giving people running commentary as developments unfold; it can lead to unhelpful distractions and take up considerable management time.

If possible, let employees in on the options you’re considering, showing the logic behind your coming actions. This builds trust and helps mitigate the anxiety they may be feeling as they consider every combination of eventualities (including catastrophic ones). It also prevents them from feeling caught by surprise when you announce the final set of changes.