How to Deliver Bad News

It’s an unpleasant, but inevitable, part of life and negotiating; sometimes you just have to deliver bad news.  Perhaps you have to let your supplier know you are not going to meet your volume expectations this quarter.  Or they lost the bid.  You might need to tell your client that the project is going over budget or will be late.

Do people want to hear the bad news?  The research indicates the answer is yes.  Most people want to know the truth as soon as possible.

Be quick

When we are delivering bad news our inclination is to drag it out.

“I am sorry to tell you, there was an accident and your dog didn’t look so good.  He was getting worse so we took him to the vet.  They performed surgery.  So sorry to tell you, he didn’t make it.”

But research tells us the person receiving bad news wants to hear the news like this:

“I have bad news about your dog. He got hit by a car and he died.”

A buffer helps.  “I am sorry, I have bad news.” Or “we need to discuss our volume projections for next month.”  This sends the message that bad news is coming.  But then, get to the point.

Be nice

Research indicates there are two considerations that will help soften the impact of how the news is received.

First, if at all possible, seek a way to help your counterpart “save face” to themselves and also to their stakeholders.

Give them a small victory to bring to their stakeholders.

“It would have been worse, they told me, but I was able to negotiate an additional order this month.”

“They are raising the prices, but I was able to extend the current pricing for 4 months.”

Secondly, research indicates that when the person delivering the bad news wrote down and rehearsed the delivery, they were more effective.  They did not drag it out, they did not say anything offensive and they were more relaxed and calm.  This makes it easier for the person on the receiving end.  There is less confusion, which makes it less stressful to process the information.

Once you deliver the bad news, even though you want to hang up the phone or run out of the room as quickly as possible, don’t.  Hear them out, let them react and perhaps vent.  Just listen.  Don’t problem solve, defend or renegotiate at this point. The ability to do this separates the leaders from the rest of us.  It’s the pinnacle of emotional intelligence to just listen to someone and empathize with him or her after you deliver bad news.

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