Old school management used to run along the lines of “Tell ‘em what to do, and either they do it or they’re out!” Try that in any contemporary workplace and guess what? You’re out! If you are to be a successful manager, nowadays you must be at least as much a diplomat with your employees as you are a goal-achiever.
Dictionary.com defines diplomacy as “skill in managing negotiations, handling people, etc., so that there is little or no ill will.” Ah yes, it’s that “little or no ill will” that’s the stickler.
For example, your team developed Project X along certain lines. Proud of them and excited about their efforts, you present Project X to the higher-ups, who shoot it down in record time, and respond with an entirely different set of criteria and requirements.
If that’s all you come back to your team with, the new Project X direction will be met with reluctance and resistance if not outright sabotage. Talk about “ill-will”! You’ll be dealing with it in spades.
Before you unload the nasty news on your team, find a way to re-frame it. Reframing is delivering a message in a different context, much like you would re-frame a picture. In order to do that, you need to find that different context.
The easiest way to do that, is to go to whichever higher-up is most likely to discuss things with you, and ask: “Why the turn-down?” From among the reasons you’re given, you will be able to extract some that re-frame the decision in a way less likely to generate ill-will.
For example, the company had been running surveys and determined that the Project X suggested direction was unlikely to succeed. Or the budget required exceeded what the company could allocate; maybe next year would be better.
Now you have something with which to go to your team that justifies their spending time and energy on a new direction.
A flat “No” is very hard to hear. Qualify that “No” by reframing it, and you’ll keep your team’s motivation where you need it—on track.