If it hasn’t already happened, it’s just a matter of time: boards have to deliver bad news to shareholders or unit-owners. Whether an expensive project is seriously behind schedule or you need to increase common charges, being the bearer of bad tidings is never easy or enjoyable. But it can be far less traumatic – and can even be an opportunity to build and foster trust – if you approach it the right way and keep the following in mind.
Timing is everything. Share bad news as quickly as possible – before someone else beats you to it. In an information vacuum, whoever communicates first has control of the story and will frame it to meet their goals, which may not be the board’s goals, or the building’s. And because you’re reacting, you can appear defensive. Communicate what you know, when you know it, and commit to sharing further details as soon as you have them.
Just the facts, please. Be straightforward. Present the news and how it will affect people, and briefly explain why while avoiding finger-pointing. Address the questions the news raises, provide answers and describe how you’re making things better. At the same time, acknowledge the inconvenience it’s causing residents, and thank them for their patience and understanding. And solicit their input by giving them a forum to ask questions or make suggestions.
Mind your tone. However you communicate, it should be clear and concise. If it’s a written document, use short paragraphs, bullet points and a font that’s easy to read, rather than an enormous block of tiny text. Make sure it’s written for a layperson and not filled with jargon or legalese. If you already know the content, you’re not the best judge of readability, so let someone else review it. Finally, read it out loud, which helps you ensure that it’s respectful and empathic, not distant or dismissive.
Mary Federico serves on the board of her 240-unit Upper West Side condominium. Through her consultancy, Organizational Behavior Strategies, she helps leaders use behavioral science to improve their organizations.