Addressing the Challenge of Conveying Unpleasant News in Management

Literature Review

The deliverance of unpleasant news is a difficult and possibly harmful task for anyone in management. The most prevalent forms of literature grappling with this kind of question along to psychology, medicine and sociology (Folger and Skarlicki, 2001). Barclay et al (2007) find physicians who are more comfortable with delivering bad news as having more job satisfaction. Bies (2013) identifies two major streams of thought in the literature; opinion on events generally agreed as bad news and asking people definitions of bad news. He considers the medical, psychological and sociological implications and contends that bad news can be defined as something which the receiver perceives as loss and as a result, suffers cognitively, emotionally and behaviourally. The objective of Bie’s (2013) research is to identify how to deliver bad news constructively and compassionately. He isolates three stages of this; preparing, delivering and shoring/wrapping up (McClenahen and Lofland, 1976; Clark and LaBeff, 1982). The first stage involves psychological worrying, where an individual is intimated to a degree. They include vocal and non-vocal forms of forecast, advanced warnings and disclaimers (Dias et al, 2003; Maynard, 1996). Additionally, he observes that leading paper trails like documentation of meetings, communications with superiors or inferiors etc. This is important if the bad news needs to be backed with tangible proof. Bies (2012) found that amount of paper work was directly proportional to the seriousness of the bad news. Another way managers can constructively deliver bad news is by managing expectations so that the chances of subordinates approaching them with something they have to turn down is less (Bies, 1987). He related the theory of ‘hedging’, which essentially takes responsibility off the manager’s shoulders and/or stresses on how difficult the delivery is for the manager (Hewitt and Stokes, 1975). He finds that disclaimers are even successful in cushioning threats and ensuring more cooperation than they would’ve gotten with just threats. Whatsapp Additionally, he elucidates in his research that giving the receiver the opportunity to voice their opinions and concerns cultures an environment of equality and makes people react better to bad news. Building legitimacy through coalition support from superiors is another way of making sure that everyone the manager is accountable to is up-to-date and in consensus if there are decisions to be made like laying employees off (Bies, 2012; Dutton and Ashford, 1993). The final stage of the preparation process is rehearsal. Bies (2012) reveals that it is a technique most usually used by medical professionals and it helps to appear calm and condition oneself for the stressful situation that they’re about to face. About the actual delivery, he says that timing of delivery is key as managers want to save valuable time by delivering as soon as possible. Daft and Lengel (1986) describe that medium of delivery have an effect on its reception, face-to-face delivery is much richer and appears more sincere than indirect and electronic means of delivery. In organisations, usage of electronic means is more common as the deliverer more accurately puts their point across. Additionally, respectful and dignified delivery ensures loyalty to the organisation even after the employee has been terminated (Bies et al, 1993). Another aspect to be considered is giving legitimate justification, it can take the agency of blame from the deliverer and place it uniformly on the shoulders of the organisation, the manager and the receiver of the news (Bies and Shapiro, 1987). However, if account isn’t adequate enough, it may lead to more adversity than a willingness to cooperate. Disclosure of full truth is fruitful, but if omission leads to a better outcome, it should be employed. The last stage is the transitional stage, public relation management has to be done, stakeholders must be notified and apologies should be made. Apologies sustain long-term relationships with consumers and employees, but care should be taken the manager doesn’t scapegoat an employee in event of a failure. Bies (2013) discovers five functions managements should perform in delivering bad news. First, performance correction includes functions which are done to improve further activities in the organisation. Second, managing blame through paper trails, disclaimers and taking responsibility becomes important. Third, the impact of bad news was lessened by calibration, PR, giving advance warning and so on. Fourth, to improve connections with employees by giving space to voice and opinions. Lastly, self-management by rehearsing and self-presentation is necessary. He also speaks of theoretical perspectives. Organisational justice is concerned with legitimacy of outcome and process, impression management is concerned with the receivers social identity, coping theory concentrates on challenges with coping after delivery of news. Finally, he outlines areas for further research and scopes. The Multiphase model needs a closer look at understanding the direction of the flow of delivery of news, analysis is needed in all three phases of multiphase model of bad news delivery. Also, delivery and transition phases need more academic attention. There also needs to be more work on the ordinary versus the extreme forms of bad news delivery. Additionally, components like anchoring and framing effect need more attention through the study of the strategic functions of delivering bad news. Giving the example of two dilemmas, one a conflict between avoiding responsibility versus taking responsibility and two, partial disclosure versus full disclosure. He concludes that using these frameworks to further research into bad news delivery, variables like justice and team management have an impact in the academia. Finally, he concludes why management theories of delivering bad news is different from other disciplines. A manager is never given formal training about how to deliver bad news and is expected to learn it when they start working, there needs to be a formal mechanism in place whereby managers can train to employ strategies like coping when delivering bad news. These are the qualities that elevates a manager to the level of a leader.

Research Methodology

For this project, a qualitative method of data collection will be used to gather data on the suitable method of deliver bad news in an organisation. The chosen organisation is a retail store and the intended recipients are retail workers.

Research Method

The research method that will be used will be interview and focus groups. A preliminary stage of the research will consist of selecting individuals and conducting a focus group with them. The focus groups will be divided into ten, five groups total. Putcha and Potter (2004) suggest that strategies like the usage of a moderator’s role in bringing the point of reference back into the discussion. The focus group will serve as a base for the making of the interview questions, which will be based on both open and close-ended questions. The interview will be conducted online so as to maintain the anonymity of the workers. Synchronous interviews will mostly be conducted expect for participants who have answered an open-ended question in a way that the research finds interesting. This is because synchronous online interviewing will save the retail workers time and also ensure participating by most people (Flick, 2018).

Usage of Online Sources

The research will make use to online sources to map patterns like the history of the retail organisation, patterns of cutbacks and employee layoff, budget and employee benefits and so on, in order to find out the areas where the manager may have to deliver bad news.

Compilation of Data and Presentation

The first stage of compilation will be transcribing the data collected from the focus group and individual interviews. Documents require analytical understanding, as they comprise of secondary sources. However, the primary data collected from the interviews needs to be coded. The objective of coding is to categorise patterns and make it manageable, classifiable (Flick, 2018). For example, the research expects interviewers to express disappointment at having ideas shot down or holidays rejected by their manager. It will use a hierarchal system of coding to categorise the degree of disappointment workers feel with respect to each common forms of rejection. The presentation will consist of guidelines that Strauss (1978) elucidated; clear and analytical, separation of the conceptual and the descriptive parts, establishing clear relationships and correlations, describing variations and describing the situations in which they arise.

Sample Population

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The sample will consist of roughly 30 retail workers from a mid-sized retail organisation, preferably with multiple chains. The workers will be chosen according to the job description they have, this research will seek to understand the patterns of delivering bad and news and its effects on the majority retail workers who are in non-managerial positions.

  1. Folger, R. and Skarlicki, D.P., 2001. Fairness as a dependent variable: Why tough times can lead to bad management. Justice in the workplace: From theory to practice, 2, pp.97-118.
  2. Barclay, J.S., Blackhall, L.J. and Tulsky, J.A., 2007. Communication strategies and cultural issues in the delivery of bad news. Journal of palliative medicine, 10(4), pp.958-977.
  3. Maynard, D.W., 1996. On" realization" in everyday life: The forecasting of bad news as a social relation. American sociological review, pp.109-131.
  4. Dias, L., Chabner, B.A., Lynch Jr, T.J. and Penson, R.T., 2003. Breaking bad news: a patient's perspective. The Oncologist, 8(6), pp.587-596.
  5. Bies, R.J., 2013. The delivery of bad news in organizations: A framework for analysis. Journal of Management, 39(1), pp.136-162.
  6. Bies, R.J., 2012. The manager as intuitive politician: Blame management in the delivery of bad news. Georgetown University.
  7. Bies, R.J., 1987. The predicament of injustice: The management of moral outrage. Research in organizational behavior.
  8. Hewitt, J.P. and Stokes, R., 1975. Disclaimers. American Sociological Review, pp.1-11.
  9. Dutton, J.E. and Ashford, S.J., 1993. Selling issues to top management. Academy of management review, 18(3), pp.397-428.
  10. Bies, R.J., Martin, C.L. and Brockner, J., 1993. Just laid off, but still a “good citizen?” Only if the process is fair. Employee Responsibilities and Rights Journal, 6(3), pp.227-238.
  11. Bies, R.J. and Shapiro, D.L., 1987. Interactional fairness judgments: The influence of causal accounts. Social Justice Research, 1(2), pp.199-218.
  12. Puchta, C. and Potter, J., 2004. Focus group practice. Sage.
  13. Flick, U., 2018. Designing qualitative research. Sage.

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