Have you ever noticed that the people who come to you with bad news often say, “Don’t blame me, I’m just the messenger” or “don’t shoot the messenger”? Creating an environment where people feel safe to share opinions, ideas or air disagreements is crucial for any leader. It’s seldom we ever move forward without some debate on important issues. That’s partly how we know they’re important in the first place.
When someone immediately slips into defensive mode of “don’t blame me” one of two things are happening.
One, you may have a reputation of ruling with an iron fist and that receiving bad news is not welcome. This is not a long term winning strategy by they way.
Or more often, the person sharing the “news” is being a busy body or worse, completely abdicating their responsibility.
Don’t let them get away with it. No one is assigning blame. Be professional. This isn’t a whoever smelt it dealt it scenario. It can be enormously frustrating to work with these non-leaders, but as a leader yourself this becomes a teachable moment.
Don’t let them slink away without asking them for their ideas, suggestions or feelings on the matter. In the event they just are a busy body this with trap them in the realization that they are guilty of having no original thought which will cause them to fluster and quickly and leave. Good riddance.
If they are merely shy or lack confidence, your prompts will provide a safe environment for them to potentially reveal some useful information that you didn’t previously have access too. Thank them for their contributions and move on.