One of the toughest parts of being human is disappointing others. Yet it happens all the time, whether intentionally or unintentionally—there is no way to truly stop disappointing others.
In the managing world and in the parenting world, disappointing others goes with the territory. Unfortunately, in order to be a good manager (and a good parent) you have to get used to disappointing others. There is no way that you are going to make everyone happy all the time. Sometimes you are going to have to make decisions that others don’t like—such as decisions that are not popular but are important for the success of the business. As a manager, you have to do what is right for the organization and usually that will be right for the people too, but not always.
What should you do when you have to make a decision that you know will disappoint others?
- Share as much of your rationale for the decision as you can.
- Transparency builds trust and helps to build alignment behind all your decisions, not just the ones that you know will be disappointing.
- Take time to listen to their concerns.
- Listening to their concerns doesn’t mean that you should (or can) change the decision that was made, but it matters tremendously that people believe that they have been heard by you.
- Let them have their reaction.
- They get to have their disappointment—don’t try to talk them out of it or to tell them that their disappointment is wrong; that will only make things more difficult for you in the long run.
When someone tells you that they’re disappointed with your actions, you can say things like, “I hear that you’re not happy with the decision.” Or “I can see that you’re not pleased with what the path we’ve chosen.” That’s all. You don’t have to apologize and you should avoid defending the decision in this moment. (You can take time later to evaluate the outcome and determine at that point the “goodness” of the decision.)
Finally and most importantly, you should never blast them for being disappointed in you. You may be hurt, you may be angry, you may even be justified to feel that way, but as a leader you must set an example by responding with calmness, clarity, and consideration.
This week, take some time to practice these steps (preferably on a small issue) so that you have an experience holding onto your decision while also staying open to hearing the disappointment of others. At first, it may be challenging not to minimize or apologize away the decision, but hang in there—it’s a really good skill to develop. Let us know how you do.
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