Always prepare when delivering bad news
Few things make me squirm more than having to deliver bad news. It’s a task that, in the past, I have done anything to avoid. The prospect of letting someone down, giving negative feedback, or even worse, letting them go, filled me with such dread and collie-wobbles.
If ever in that position I’d end up slipping into these really unhelpful behaviours that make giving someone bad news, even worse:
Putting off the inevitable until the last possible chance and usually dragging out everyone’s discomfort.
Dancing around the subject and avoiding the person
Talking about anything but the sensitive subject and becoming weirdly flighty, hoping not to get trapped in the same room as them so that I might have to actually address the issue.
Hoping others will solve problem
Praying for them to resign/find a replacement/dump me before I have to fire/quit/dump them (probably treating them dreadfully in the process).
Rushing through it
Only looking at the ground, encoding the bad news within random babbles, so often they have no idea what I’m actually saying and then disappearing off before they have a chance to question me or respond.
Phew! Bad news delivered, except when nothing changes and I realise they never actually got the message. Or they leave and trash the place in their rage and resentment when all I was trying to do was tweak a behaviour.
It all sounds comical from a distance but I have also been on the receiving end of bad ‘bad news’ givers. It is awkward and painful and uncomfortable for everyone involved when bad news is delivered badly. Why is it so hard?
Because none of us want to be the bad guy. We don’t want to hurt people’s feelings. But not just because they will feel bad, but because it makes us feel bad. When someone is upset because of something we’ve said or done, we feel guilty and embarrassed, sometimes even shameful and unworth, even when it’s something that had to be said or done for the better.
Is it possible to be good at giving bad news?
The first step to delivering bad news well is preparing. Yes we need to prepare what we are going to say. We need to have the facts and be sure of the reasons for what we’re doing.
It helps to even have the introduction planned out, because nerves can often leave us tongue-tied and at a loss. If we can broach the bad news smoothly and calmly, it sets the stage for a better discussion.
However, the most important thing to prepare when delivering bad news is ourselves. If we’re concerned with always being liked and being nice, we can be fearful to tell the truth and be honest with someone, even when it is the right thing to do.
We need to prepare ourselves for the other person’s emotional response to our news. If we are afraid of their emotions, we might shy away from them, or the news itself. We can end up back-peddling to preserve our ‘nice-guy’ image, or flip our fear into anger and be cross at the other person’s upset.
There is solace in trusting that the truth is ultimately more important than being liked, and it is more respectful. It is better for someone to know where they stand than be under false impressions.
They may even be thankful in the long run, once any initial hurt is dealt with. But if we’re delivering bad news, we can’t expect any thanks or popularity from it.
Preparation, however, is just the start. There are further steps that will help us make the best of bearing bad news. And while I hope it will be a week of good news for everyone, we’ll be exploring these bad news tips next week, so watch this space.
•Julia Pitt is a trained Success Coach and certified NLP practitioner on the team at Benedict Associates. For further information contact Julia on (441) 705-7488, www.juliapittcoaching.com.</i>
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