No matter what kind of profession you are in, delivering bad news is never a pleasant job. Whether it is letting your client know that the shipment would be delayed, rejecting a business proposal, or just having to fire someone, is always the hardest part of any job.
Having these tough conversations is not that easy and most of the times people would want to escape this responsibility. However, irrespective of what you try everything doesn’t always work in your favor, and hence there will always come a time when you must take up this hard job of giving out the bad news.
Irrespective of the fact that this is a spiteful task, learning to do it effectively can help you turn around an uncomfortable situation into a one that is kind and agreeable to both parties. No one would want the other person to go into a shutdown mode because of some bad news but would want them to be open to the news and perhaps also learn from it so as to take prudent decisions. Ultimately, the aim is to maintain the relationship and show respect and compassion towards the other person’s feelings and circumstances, thus making them feel valued and not turning them into your enemy.
So how does one successfully convey the bad news without worsening the impact on the receiving party? To understand that, let us first see what exactly bad news is.
Bad news can be defined as any message to which the other person who receives it will have an unpleasant emotional reaction. Such people who read it or are on the receiving end of the message, would usually feel disappointed and threatened in some way, which is not what you would truly want. Communicating negative information effectively always requires a lot greater sensitivity than it does for communicating a positive message or good news. That is the reason why you must take special care to avoid causing any sort of unwanted damage to the quality relationship you share.
Thus, one of the approaches that are best in such cases is the Indirect Approach to communication wherein you convey your message through four steps as below.
- Buffer: A neutral or positive opening but a meaningful statement that does not mention bad news
- Reasons: Explain the causes of bad news before disclosing it
- Bad News: Reveal the bad news without over-emphasizing it and provide an alternative or a compromise, if possible
- Close: End with a personalized, forward-looking pleasant statement and avoid referring to the bad news again
You wouldn’t want to tell your employees that they have been fired straight away because that would do some serious damage to your reputation as well as to the relationship that you have with all your employees. Same goes for any other situation as well, and hence you make use of the “buffer” where you open up your conversation with a neutral or a positive message. Only when you have started off with that, explain the causes that have led to this bad situation before you actually disclose the message. This makes the listener aware of some possible bad news and it does not come as a direct shock to them.
Now that the listener is prepared to receive the bad news reveal it but don’t over-emphasize upon it unnecessarily. Also, try to work out a compromise or an alternative that can be acceptable in such a situation. As you have now conveyed the bad news, end the conversation with a positive statement that gives the listener some hope for things would soon be better, and avoid referring to the bad news again.
In addition to that, it is known to be a good practice to convey the bad news in the passive voice, in general terms, and with the use of abstract nouns. You must also make sure that you are using a positive language to accentuate the good things in the message and for providing alternatives. Once you are into the habit of using this technique and conversing respectfully, it will help you gain confidence and will also assist you in establishing stronger relationships despite the fact that the circumstances were not very pleasurable.
So instead of saying – Due to technical difficulties, we are unable to send the two dozen 5-inch crates for about three weeks.
You could say – We will be able to send the two dozen 5-inch crates in about three weeks when we expect our system to be fixed.
Although both messages convey the same message, the second one has a positive tone which makes the other person feel valued. While there is no way in which you can completely avoid making announcements or conveying some bad news, there are ways in which the other person will feel being treated fairly with respect and dignity, that will further boost your credibility.
While you follow this inductive approach to convey messages, make sure that you take ownership of the problem and don’t indulge in blame game. Don’t try to escape your responsibilities but take the accountability for whatever is that has happened, because that sends a powerful message about your confidence, courage, and honor. Someone who is truly apologetic and is trying their best to rectify the situation is someone who earns the respect in the society. With that, make sure that you are not hiding facts and don’t procrastinate over when to convey the bad news. You may hope that the situation might turn around and be better if you wait for some time. However, if it is not done on time, it would do a lot bigger damage than what it would have done if they knew about it beforehand.
If you understand these factors that play an important role in communication, then this task of delivering bad news won’t remain that challenging for you and will increase your confidence in handling similar situations. Always remember that you will be judged more critically during bad times than in good and so, if you don’t handle these bad messages effectively, they will sabotage your future as well as your business. So, concentrate on creating solutions to the bad news so that it will help you build trust with the others as well as better relationships.