One of the roles of leaders is to provide accurate and timely information. Sometimes the information to be conveyed can be challenging to hear and to deliver. It’s not necessarily about taking away the pain — that’s not the role of leaders.
It’s about creating an environment through the provision of information in which people feel informed.
If that assists in the healing of those aggrieved, then that’s a positive.
It’s over eighteen months now since MH370 disappeared. With the discovery of wreckage in August it all but confirmed the fate of those on board. It didn’t remove the pain of the relatives who lost their loved ones, but it did provide a slither of information in this otherwise baffling aviation tragedy.
As a result of the disaster, the lives of 239 crew and passengers were lost. For each of those poor souls on board there is a family that grieves the loss of their loved ones which is amplified by the fact that they don’t know what happened and they have never had the chance to bury their loved ones in accordance with their faith and beliefs.
The pain of loss is made worse by the pain of not knowing what happened, and it can really only be understood by those who have experienced such loss themselves. The communication to the families who suffered and continue to suffer from not knowing leaves many asking questions if it could have been handled differently.
So what can we learn from how communication and information flows in challenging times? Whilst there will always be a justifiable desire for all the answers, it is highly unlikely that the answers to so many of the questions posed by the families and indeed wider community are unlikely to ever be answered.
One of the greatest learnings that I took from working in Bali after the bombings where the Australian team was charged with the responsibility of identifying and repatriating the 202 people who had perished, was how to respond to those who had lost their family and friends. The families wanted their loved ones and we stood between them and that repatriation process, determined to ensure there were no mistakes, but that took time.
From spending time with the families I learnt the importance of giving them accurate and timely information. We couldn’t remove the pain or provide the answers they were necessarily looking for, and it didn’t expedite the identification process, but in communicating in the way that we did, we earned their understanding. The leaders charged with the responsibility of providing the answers took time to explain the complex and at times frustratingly slow process to the families and with that came their understanding and appreciation for the challenges we faced.
To deny those in search of facts, answers, information, and the honesty and transparency they desire creates resentment and does nothing to build trust. You also deny them the opportunity to deal and process with the challenges that lie before them.
Applying this to the teams and organisations that we lead, there is strong evidence that having difficult conversations is enhanced by the disclosure of information. It may seem counter intuitive at the time of wrapping up and getting the conversation over, but when we sit in reflection the information and answers we seek allows us to understand and deal with the most difficult information imaginable. The resilience that we show in times of loss is enhanced by our level of understanding.