Coping with bad news and change

Post the Brexit vote there's an increasing amount of insecurity, anger and general negative emotion. In many, if not all, workplaces there will be colleagues who find themselves on different sides of the argument and with varying reactions, from outright glee to boiling anger, at the result.

As a manager or leader, who is presumably also going through these emotions, what can you do?

First, understand that all the emotional reactions are entirely normal. The Kubler Ross curve, with years of research behind it, shows how people deal with bad news, travelling through Shock, Denial, Anger, Sadness and Resentment before emerging, hopefully, at the other end with Acceptance and moving on. But people travel at different speeds, and it's a journey not a forced march.

How do you deal with this? First listen, something that neither side seemed genuinely able to do in the referendum. Help people to surface and articulate their concerns, be they about job security, being the victims of anti immigration sentiment, sadness at the apparent loss of their view of the country, etc. Listen without needing to have an answer. Listen and explore what lies at the heart of the emotion.

Second, develop a plan. You don't need to respond immediately to every concern, indeed this can backfire if answers sound like rehearsed sound bites. It's ok to acknowledge your own concerns: you're the boss, not their parent. Eventually though, you owe it to your people to have a strategy, even if it only covers the next three months whilst the dust settles. If you're completely at a loss then it's a great opportunity to involve your team in coming up with the answers to the new world that we find ourselves in.

Third, make sure that your people reconnect with your organisation's values. Having things in common makes it easier to talk rather than argue; to compromise rather than berate. In or Out, you stand a better chance of succeeding if everyone is clear in not just the What but the How and Why of your organisation.

A final word on what not to do. Don't try and pep people up with a cheery "keep calm and carry on/stiff upper lip/blitz spirit/built an empire" set of platitudes. Those who are angry will use it as fuel, those who a sad will view you as uncaring, and those who are resentful will see you as a clueless idiot not fit to lead. Give people time, listen and show them some direction. If everyone does this then we stand a good chance of success, whatever the eventual outcome.

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