Donovan Group Insights

Good and Bad: Keep Communication Consistent

When it comes to good and bad news, district leaders have their disagreements. Some believe it’s important to focus on good news while others don’t hesitate to share bad news. The truth is, districts shouldn’t choose one over the other. Communication has to be consistent, and that means sharing a healthy dose of the good and the bad.

Let’s explore what consistent communication looks like and how to put your district’s messaging on the right path.

Consistency is about more than frequency

By now, you probably know that consistency is key to stakeholder communication. When you communicate on a regular basis, stakeholders regard your district as a reliable source of information. They trust that you’ll keep them informed about important topics, whether it’s an upcoming school board meeting or something more serious like a school incident. Consistency shows you care about keeping everyone in the loop, and that will strengthen your district’s stakeholder relationships.

At the same time, consistency refers to more than frequency. You want to be consistent with how often you communicate, but you also want to be consistent with the types of messages you communicate. In a very broad sense, there are two types of messages: good and bad. Of course, no message is entirely good or entirely bad. There’s certainly a gray area, and the message will be interpreted as “good” or “bad” depending on the audience. But ultimately, most stakeholders will perceive messages as either good or bad. It’s important for your district to have both.

School districts need a healthy balance of good and bad news. No one is eager to share bad news, but you can’t have good news all the time, either! In order to be consistent, you need to share the good and the bad. Doing so demonstrates honesty and integrity. It shows stakeholders you’re willing to do the right thing, even when it’s hard. Sharing bad news might not be very pleasant in the moment, but after the discomfort wears off, you’ll be left with stakeholders’ trust and respect.

What happens when there’s only GOOD news?

Many district leaders choose to focus solely on sharing good news. They believe good news (and good news alone) will boost the district’s image in the eyes of community members. They’re worried that bad news would reflect poorly on the district, so they avoid sharing it as much as possible. Good news makes people feel good, and district leaders want stakeholders to associate that good feeling with their schools.

However, there is such a thing as too much good news. You’ll have to address something unpleasant eventually, especially if the community’s safety is at risk. If everything they hear is positive, your community won’t be prepared for the negative. Bad news would create bigger shock waves than usual because stakeholders aren’t used to hearing that type of message from your district. It might even cause a panic, which is both unproductive and entirely preventable.

Many district leaders emphasize good news because they want to maintain healthy stakeholder relationships. However, too much good news can actually lead to the opposite. If a district is positive all the time, stakeholders might begin to suspect their district is hiding something (because it probably is!). This can lead to feelings of distrust, which won’t serve the district very well when it needs to call upon stakeholders for support.

The solution? Don’t be afraid to share bad news. Be honest about the situation, and explain how your district is going to move forward. Bad news doesn’t have to cause a panic. Bad news doesn’t have to ruin your district’s reputation. When handled with tact, a bit of bad news can actually make your community stronger than before.

What happens when there’s only BAD news?

In the name of honesty, some district leaders lean heavily into bad news. They’re not trying to be negative—they just want stakeholders to know what’s happening in the district. These leaders like to keep their stakeholders well-informed, especially when a school incident directly impacts members of the community. Really, sharing bad news is their way of keeping stakeholders safe.

As you might imagine, there are some drawbacks to sharing nothing but bad news. If everything you share is negative, that’s all people will expect from you. Every time you communicate, stakeholders will assume you’re about to share bad news. Stakeholders shouldn’t get a sinking feeling in their guts when they see a new message from your district. They should be excited to hear what you have to say!

Too much bad news can also foster a negative attitude among the people in your community. If you only share bad news, that’s all they’ll ever see. It becomes harder and harder for stakeholders to see the good that comes out of your district. And what little good you share will be eclipsed by the bad. Negativity breeds more negativity, and that’s not the kind of atmosphere you want to create in your schools.

Do your best to look beyond bad news. As a district leader, it’s your responsibility to show stakeholders that there’s plenty worth celebrating. Good things happen even in the toughest of times. If you look a little closer, you’ll see the positives everywhere you go. Share them with your community!

Strike a balance with your communication

Finding the right balance comes down to your own judgment. Consistency doesn’t mean your communication is equal parts good and bad. There’s no rule that says every positive message has to be followed by a negative one and vice versa. You don’t have to go out of your way to find something negative just for the sake of consistency! If something good happens, share it. If something not so good happens, you can share that, too (usually).

While sharing “bad” news is perfectly fine, it’s important to note that not everything is appropriate to share with the community. There’s being honest, and then there’s oversharing. An incident might involve private information about a student, in which case only certain people need to be informed about it. Or maybe the public just doesn’t have anything productive to gain from a particular piece of news.

Every time you face an unpleasant situation, ask yourself, “Does the public need to know about this?” If the answer is yes, find a thoughtful way to broach the subject with your community. If the answer is no, trust that you’re doing what’s right for both stakeholders and your district. That just means you get to spend more time focusing on the positives!

Do what’s best for your school community

Every district needs to share the good and the bad. How much you share of each depends on what’s best for the community. Sometimes, you can’t avoid telling stakeholders bad news, no matter how negative it may sound. On the bright side, there’s always good news to share, as long as you do it in moderation. It all boils down to staying honest, keeping people informed and never losing sight of the positives.

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