Top Tips for Surviving the Controversial Meeting

BY Kathy Crosett
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If you’re about to hold a big meeting to announce a sweeping change in the company, you might want to hit the pause button and think about your strategy. Any announcement that contains universally wonderful news, like a contract which increases sales 100%  should be shared with great fanfare and little forethought. When you’re preparing to announce news that will negatively impact some team members, or may be viewed as controversial, you need a different approach.

Trial Balloons

In a post on Harvard Business Review, Andy Molinsky outlines how managers should make controversial announcements. One strategy is to be conservative and copy politicians. They often send up ‘trial balloons’ to see how the electorate will react to a proposed change.

Molinksy refers to this approach as framing. Instead of positioning the change – whether it be the proposed purchase of a new company that will result in layoffs, or the potential sales of a product line which would mean asking employees to relocate – as a huge upheaval, talk about small aspects of the plan. Connect the proposal to tasks the organization is already undertaking and emphasize the positives. By downplaying the size of the change, you’ll be able to convince key people to support what you want to do.

Key Influencers

As part of this strategy, you should meet in advance with key influencers in your organization. Give the folks who will be directly impacted by change a heads-​up. They’ll appreciate your courtesy and the trust you’re putting in them. These team members might not like the proposed change, but they might be more likely to go along with the plan when given advance notice. These folks may also be able to sway the opinions and responses of the rest of the employees once you go public with the news.

Move Quickly

Finally, once you’ve made an important decision, let everyone know as soon as possible. Sharing some of the details with trusted employees and influencers can ease a big transition, but if you wait too long, the rumor mill will start.

There's no easy way to announce unwelcome news, but planning your approach can limit the damage in your organization and ensure that key team members will have your back as you move ahead.