Being a messenger of bad news has always felt like a dangerous task, even if historically messengers have been protected. It was clear to most, that killing the messenger was a foolish act.
“Since the first messenger who told Tigranes that Lucullus was coming had his head cut off for his pains, no one else would tell him anything, and so he sat in ignorance while the fires of war were already blazing around him, giving ear only to those who flattered him and said that Lucullus would be a great general if he ventured to withstand Tigranes at Ephesus, and did not fly incontinently from Asia at the mere sight of so many myriads of men.” (Plut. Luc. 25.1)
Nevertheless, the fear of bad news often leads to bad news never appearing. One possibility is the fear of being at risk as a messenger that leads to bad news never being shared. A second possibility is that bad news is inaudible as the recipients want to avoid them.
The latter has been one of the causes for many warnings against the risk of an upcoming pandemic to remain unheard of.
A combination of both has been the cause of information about the Coronavirus being delayed in China as party officials tried to block them. Or in a similar manner relevant institutions like the CDC in the US becoming unable to use their competence to inform the population.
It is a phenomenon that occurs everywhere and doesn’t spare organizations and teams. A prominent example of this situation is the fall of Nokia. Nokia’s middle management was perceiving that the smartphone was leading to a change in the market. And yet, they didn’t share this information even though it was appearing, that it was a threat to Nokia’s business model.
Solving such a situation requires constant work to ease communication as well as attention to the existence of relationships inviting trust and mutual care.
It will only happen if teams make themselves aware that fear can appear and become a major risk to being informed.