Just be honest.

That’s a simple rule but one that leaders all too often fail to live by, especially during mergers and acquisitions—and most of all when that M&A activity is taking place during difficult economic times.

There’s a reason that honesty suffers in these situations. It’s not because leaders are bad people, but because they often don’t know what to say. If layoffs have occurred, employees want to know if more are coming. If layoffs haven’t happened yet, employees want to know if they are on the way. If companies whose operations cross international borders are merging, employees want to know how the cultures will be combined. And if expenses have been frozen and investing is at a temporary standstill, workers want to know when the company will start moving forward again.

Often, decisions on all of those issues simply haven’t been made. So leaders go silent, assuming that, “What workers don’t know won’t hurt them.” But that silence is a mistake. A lack of information and communication can crush productivity. It’s better to have people spending time on work than spending time worrying about what shoe will drop on them next. So communicate honestly about these matters with the following guidelines:

Tell your people you know what they are going through.

Let them know that you understand their concerns about their jobs or those of their coworkers. Let them know that, despite the M&A process, you’re still managing their day-to-day work and are aware of their contributions to the company.

Tell them the plan—even if there isn’t one.

“We don’t know the next steps. But we’re working on it, and we expect a plan within six weeks,” is a much better thing to say during uncertain times than nothing at all.

Drill down into the data to find every positive gain.

During M&As, especially in rocky economic times, workers tend to focus on every negative — on the things that aren’t working. So leaders need to show them what is working and trumpet every victory, even small ones. Revenues are down but market share is up? Celebrate the market share increase. Profits have shrunk but your customer service ratings are up? Communicate the gains with customers, and explain the long-term benefits of those gains.

The key is for leaders to enroll their people, showing them that a brighter, more ambitious future will happen.

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