Being an engineering manager isn't just about understanding the technical side of things; it's also about mastering the art of communication. Especially when the news isn’t what your team would hope to hear.

Navigating the treacherous waters of management decisions can be daunting. It's not just about making decisions; it's how you convey them, especially to a team of software developers who thrive on logic and clarity.

I'm no stranger to the challenges of being in a managerial role where the weight of tough choices falls on my shoulders. As someone with high emotional sensitivity, this responsibility sometimes felt like an anchor, dragging me down.

One such occasion that’s etched in my memory was when I faced the heart-wrenching task of dismissing an incredibly likable but underperforming developer. It was this experience that propelled me to design a structured approach, my personal "life vest", to effective communication in these scenarios.

Whether you're in software development, IT, or any other engineering field, the following “life vest” strategy can be invaluable when you're submerged in the complexities of leadership decisions.

Announce the Purpose of the Conversation

This initial step prevents you from digressing and also reminds you of what you want to achieve. Setting the tone also makes it easier for your developer to buy into the decision as the news you bring might not be well-received. By being empathetic and showing your human side, you also reduce the chances for your developer to negatively project onto you his or her feelings about the decision.

Gain developer insights - simple, fast, and easy!
Learn more

Clear and Brief Communication of the Decision

The next step requires you to get to the point. The sooner you communicate the decision, the better for both you and your developer. If you have defined the purpose of the meeting, your developer will not be exposed to frustrating assumptions as to what you mean and where the conversation is going. You also discourage reactionary behavior where your developer may try to persuade you and determine if you’re objectively right.

Give Your Reason(s)

The third step is the trickiest. Give justification of the reasons for the decision. As a manager, you have the right, and even the duty, to make decisions that protect you and your company’s interests. Many of these decisions will not be liked by your developers because, from their point of view, they will be seen as evil or unfair.

Knowing this, it’s essential that you clearly name your motives that lie at the source of the decision and not give justifications that would multiply your developers’ arguments about how wrong your reasons are.

Defend Yourself Against Persuasive Counterarguments

While it’s crucial to stay firm, acknowledging your developer's perspective is equally important. Employ active listening techniques, such as paraphrasing their concerns, to ensure they feel heard and understood. Say things like, "I hear your point," "I understand," or "I appreciate your attitude." But Remember: Always remain firm in your decision. They may vent and ask questions but don’t debate the matter. Just listen and repeat your message.

Ending the Conversation

After giving your developer a moment to express their feelings, start focusing on the future for you and your dev team. If the decision you’ve made requires drastic changes, be sure to have a transition plan ready to share with others. That way, they’ll have a clearer picture of how things will be moving forward.

In summary, the role of an engineering manager extends beyond the realms of technology; it delves deep into the nuances of effective leadership and communication. The next time you’re faced with a tough decision, strap on this "life vest" and navigate those choppy waters with confidence.