How to Deliver Bad News

How to Deliver Bad News
Think back to the last time you had to deliver bad news. Did you spend days in worrisome anticipation? Did you experience nightmares? From downsizing to disciplinary actions, personal issues to work assignments - no one likes to deliver bad news. Some of the reasons are obvious. Delivering bad news often has a huge impact not only on morale, but productivity as well. Delivering bad news has destroyed many working relationships. While it may not be possible to avoid delivering bad news, there are ways to get the job done.

Don’t sugar coat. Attempting to minimize the impact may seriously backfire. Consider the case of a manager documenting a disciplinary action. Sugar coating the issue may provide a false sense of security to the recipient. As a result, the problem may not be taken seriously or corrected. It can also leave the manager in trouble if it comes down to a question of termination. Don’t make promises to lessen the impact. For example, don’t promise a rehire to an employee being laid off, “when the economy improves within a year.” This may make it temporarily easier for the employee - until the year rolls around. False promises sets expectations that the company may not be in the position to honor.

Be upfront and honest. There may be times when only partial information can be shared due to the nature or status of the problem. Resist the temptation to lie about the status or your awareness of the status. Share as much information as is possible, but do not apologize for not being able to share every detail. Make it clear that you are sharing as much information that can be made available at the current time. Not being upfront or honest will cost you credibility.

Accept responsibility. If your actions caused the problem, admit it. Avoid acting defensively or placing the blame on others. If you made the error in calculation, don’t blame “the system”. Avoiding responsibility can also lead to lack of credibility.

Just do it. Waiting to deliver bad news does not diminish the impact. In many cases, a prolonged period of waiting to convey bad news will increase the magnitude of the problem and increase stress. This is especially true if the office rumor mill is allowed to churn on the problem. There may be an occasion when you may wait until the end of the day, especially if the problem may cause an initially extreme adverse reaction. Waiting until the end of the day allows all participants time to disperse and contemplate the problem overnight.

Make it simple and do it fast. Don’t drag out the delivery. The real problem will get lost if there is too much filler. No one should have to wade through meaningless dialogue to hear what you need to tell them.

Listen. Once the bad news is delivered, allow time for the other individual to respond. Respect their voice. While it may not change the situation, it displays respect for the opinions of others.

Regardless of the cause, delivering bad news is never easy. It does not matter if you are a supervisor, manager or co-worker; it is one skill that does not get any easier over time or promotion. Making the delivery honestly and quickly will benefit everyone involved.


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