There was a great commercial out a few years back.

Picture a sepia hued scene set in Abraham and Mrs. Lincoln’s a parlour room. Mrs. Lincoln was showing off her new Sunday-Best dress when she says to ‘Honest Abe:’ “Does this dress make me look fat?” Honest Abe, stares at the floor nervously turning his stovepipe hat in his hands as he tries to decide what the right response might be.

Bosses are human beings like the rest of us and, unless you are a sociopath, who wants to hurt the ones we love, like and care for. So we are in good company when we tell white lies to avoid upsetting people.

But what do you say when an employee asks about a situation where your organization is involved with a sensitive negotiation? Or, they get wind of a layoff or some other decision that will impact their lives?

Read how not to Eff up talking to your people

The groundwork for situations like these must be laid well in advance. You must build trust by explaining every decision you make in an open and transparent manner. You do this so that when the time comes and you can’t be transparent, people will trust because you have proven yourself trustworthy.

When the inevitable question comes up that you are not able to answer, here are the 2 responses you need to know:

  • I don’t know,

or

  • I can’t say.

If you don’t know, say so. People know BS when they hear it, so don’t BS. Simply respond that you don’t know the answer, but you will find the answer. Give them a date when you will get back to them and then meet that commitment even if you can only report that you are still working on it.

Sometimes you can’t say. The issue may well be confidential, so say these words: ‘I can’t say’ and add a brief explanation. For example, when asked about lay off rumours that you know are based in fact, respond by saying: ‘I can’t say. The company is making plans to deal with the economic downturn and when they are finalized we will be making an announcement. But there will be no changes before Oct 31.’

Read how to communicate in tough times

These answers are seldom fully satisfactory, but they are the truth, and you will be respected for the answer.

But for heavens sake, don’t get caught staring at the ground fiddling with your hat and trying to get out of trouble.

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