Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Bearing bad news

Embarrassing moment and how you deal with it.

Here you are, in this social function, lots of people around, they’re all mingling, chatting, making small talk, business talk and the occasional golf talk. Suddenly at the corner of your eye, you see this sharp looking gentleman but you weren’t looking at him because he’s smart or good looking, you’re looking at him because “GASP!” His woo ying (“fly” in Cantonese) is open.

You’re just next to him. What do you do? Should you tell him and be the one who embarrasses him? Should you say something? How do say it to him? Do you pull him aside now? But he’s busy talking with the president of Tanzania.

It’s easier not to say anything isn’t it? So silence is golden, or is it?

It’s always difficult to talk to people when something goes wrong, when something is embarrassing or when someone has screwed up. This happens because we don’t want to be the bearer of bad news, we don’t want to embarrass someone, we don’t want to be the one to be the one who upsets people. It’s always easy to talk to people when things are going really well, when things are smooth or when there is good news. But when challenges happen or when bad news is present, it is exactly then that a conversation becomes vitally important. So we talk well when things are good when talking is not vital and we talk badly when things turn sour when talk is vital.

It can be difficult to deal with the employee who’s always late, it can be difficult to deal with the boss who keeps saying something and doing another and it can be difficult to give candid performance feedback. So the question becomes, how do we tell people that their fly is open without causing too much embarrassment? Three tips

1.         Be discreet, tell him and only him. Don’t loudly proclaim to the whole room that his fly is open, pull him aside and away from the president of Tanzania, then whisper into his ear “Pssst, your fly is open”. It’s the same in the office, deal with ugly matters only with the person involved, help him save face. He will be grateful.
2.         Be quick. If my fly is open, please tell me now before I introduce myself to the whole room on stage during my speech. It will save me a lot of blushes. So like in the office, when you see behavior that may be a problem, deal with it quickly when it happens. You’ll have a much higher chance in affecting change and preventing more problems in the future.
3.         Say it nicely. Don’t go “hey, didn’t your father teach you how to zip up your pants?” It sounds absolutely unlikely that anyone would do this, but have you witnessed a bad boss say “didn’t you learn anything in university?” I have and it is very demotivating. Instead, your colleagues need to know that you’re saying these things because you truly have their well-being in mind. For a late colleague, don’t say “you’re late again” say “Patrick, you seem to be coming late a lot recently and I’m concerned”.

“Sir, your fly is open”

“Oh thank you so very much!”

 Edmond Yap
Education Republic

Edmond just wants to make a difference. He runs Education Republic as a way to make lasting social impact via public training, corporate skills training and business development coaching. He has insane amounts of fun in the process.