A narrative approach to delivering bad news in organizations: effective or not?

  • Carriger M
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Abstract

Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to present empirical evidence for the use of narrative to deliver bad news within an organization, specifically bad news about layoffs. The attempt is to extend previous empirical work, using narrative by senior leadership to convey corporate strategy, to a different leadership challenge and further explicate a model for understanding the effectiveness of narrative as a leadership communication tool. Design/methodology/approach – The paper presents further original research on the effectiveness of narrative as a leadership tool. And theoretical implications for leaders seeking effective communication tools are explored. Findings – Data presented to substantiate that narrative use, as opposed to a PowerPoint style, bulleted list approach, for delivering bad news, an impending layoff, is not effective at producing a clear understanding of the reasons for the layoff, confidence in subjects understanding of these reasons, or the belief in the honesty and integrity of the leader delivering this narrative. However, narrative presentation of an impending layoff is more effective at limiting the negative behavior impact of the message, by decreasing the subjects' reported likelihood that they would be seeking another job and increasing the subjects' reported likelihood that they believe the company can be righted after the layoff. Originality/value – Compared to the limited previous research on the effectiveness of narrative as opposed to a traditional PowerPoint style, bulleted list, as a leadership communication tool, the present research indicates that narrative use may be more nuanced and complicated than previously thought. Implications for the practical use of narrative and PowerPoint style, bulleted lists of information as leadership communications tools are considered.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Communication
  • Delivering bad news
  • Leadership
  • Narrative

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