How to convey bad news to anyone Suman July 17, 2015

How to convey bad news to anyone

We have all seen Chandler struggle through all his break ups with Janice in F.R.I.E.N.D.S. There is something about conveying bad news that knots us up inside. In a more recent incident, the team member of a friend, failing to get an appointment from a vendor, just fired the vendor over a phone call. As expected, there was a lot damage control to be done later.

Conveying bad news can be quite a challenge. You may need to say it to your team, an external client or someone close to your in your family. It is a tricky situation where one needs to use the best of one’s communication skills. It would help to carefully review how you are going to break the news and what you are going to say. 

A few of these tips should help:

Don’t delay

It is natural to put off unpleasant situations as much as we can rather than face them head long. We play scenarios in our mind, most of which are implausible and wait hoping that the right opportunity will magically make its appearance. But when it come to bad news, the sooner the better. You do not want your team members to hear it from elsewhere and have the rumour mills working over time. If you can’t make it to that family holiday, better break that to everyone and start planning alternatives. It’ll save you from crisis management apart from having to deal with the bad news.

Always say it in person

In a world where breaking up through SMS is accepted, it is still a good idea to communicate bad news in person. An impersonal medium like phone or email is the worst way to do it, especially in a business context. The additional help of the right body language and empathy through it can make a huge difference in how the news is taken by the recipient.

Set the context

Don’t spring it on an unsuspecting client or a team member like a bolt from the blue! Create a setting and context. You may want to drop in to a client’s office or walk to the team’s member’s desk and ask for a quick chat. Once you are in a relaxed setting, explain what’s been happening so far. This will help people understand what led to the turn of events. Use the story so far as a foundation on which you can build the unpleasant news. This makes it easier to accept why funds weren’t granted or the promotion is postponed.

Empathize and bring out the positive

Empathy can save the day for you. So tell them that you understand how bad it must feel. And you share the disappointment. And when you prepare before hand, try and find the silver lining in the dark cloud. Losing out on a project may leave more time to complete online modules of study. The vendor could be brought back in a better role later. Cancelling the family holiday due to various reasons could mean you can discover local places of interest together.

Always have an action plan or the road ahead

Don’t leave people in a lurch after telling them something they expected is not going to happen. You can play an important role in shaping the recipients’ perspective towards bad news and help control the outcomes of negative emotions. Bring out the positives and tell them what is in store for them next. If there is anything that you can help with, offer it. If you can suggest something that others can do for themselves, suggest it. This will help people move on to actionable points rather than go back to focussing on the bad news.

Offer complete support

Communicating bad news is not a one time episode. People may need help in coping with the new piece of information and feelings associated with it. Offer and actually be around while people try to move on with this. It could be training, coaching or just an informal chat to let people know you are there and for you to know how people are getting along.

Conveying bad news to internal customers

A couple of pointers for breaking bad news to your own team or other internal employees.

Don’t make it a personal opinion

If you are privy to an unpleasant management decision that you are responsible for divulging to your team, impart it on the behalf of the management. Don’t make it a personal opinion. The team members will only get prejudiced about you instead of understanding the logic behind the decision. A word of caution though: Don’t just blame the management and take no responsibility for the outcome of the decision. And that’s why being a bad news bearer is a tricky situation.

Don’t dwell on the decision you cannot change

Don’t encourage an argument or brainstorming about what could be done instead. The management has made their decision and there is no point looking at alternatives which your team feels are possible. Instead, move them quickly to what next and how they can move on with their work in the light of the new development.

I found another useful piece which adds wonderful information to communicating bad news effectively.

Have you been in a situation where you had to communicate bad news to anyone in your personal or professional life? How did you do it? Do you have more ideas about how this can be done? Drop me a line in the comments to share it with the other readers of the blog.