Do you have a strategy for breaking bad news? While each situation is different, most would agree that communicating with thought is better than dropping a bombshell or sitting on negative information to the detriment of others. Yes, telling people things they don’t want to hear can be tough; however, by investing some time and effort in your presentation, you could ease the pain and facilitate a positive outcome.
If you’re dreading the job of delivering bad news, consider the following six guidelines:
1. Carefully choose your path of least resistance.
While you might be more comfortable sharing negative news in a written format (whether it’s a letter, email, press release, text or post), your recipient might be more receptive to a conversation.
If you know that your audience (one person or many) would respond better to a talk than to a printed statement, then either take a chair at the conference table or step up to the podium.
2. Limit exposure to private matters.
When the implications are private, negative news should not spread beyond those who need to know.
If the potential for harm exceeds the value of knowledge, then don’t share anything, not even documented facts, with those who are on the fringe.
3. Explain without unnecessarily apologizing.
Tough circumstances often force difficult decisions, some of which are unpopular.
If an explanation is appropriate, offer it with conviction to earn others’ respect and their confidence.
4. Be guided by your goals.
Current issues will not necessarily persist, so your language should reflect your underlying values and long-term objectives, including the relationships you aim to maintain and build along the way.
If you cannot reach a happy conclusion today, leave the door open for negotiation or future opportunities.
5. Test your message.
Scrutinize your language, tone and potential implications before you deliver negative news.
If appropriate, request feedback that you can trust and then address any necessary elements before moving forward.
6. Move forward.
Procrastination, which prolongs problems and increases stress, makes matters worse.
If you must disseminate bad news, take charge, assume responsibility and move forward.
In the spirit of moving forward, keep in mind that bad and good are relative terms. Negative conditions prompt changes along with new opportunities to learn, grow stronger and improve.
What is your bad news policy?
Sallie W. Boyles, a.k.a. Write Lady