The only thing worse than receiving bad news is to be the one delivering it. This has been the case since time immemorial. The ancient Greek playwright Sophocles put it this way: “Nobody likes the bringer of bad news.”
At one time or another, we all have had to deliver bad news. Whether it’s personal (ending a relationship or a friendship) or business-related (downsizing and letting people go or simply a tough talk during an annual review), it’s never easy. And all the communications tools we have at our disposal today do not make it any easier.
Is there a good way to deliver bad news? Yes, I think so.
Have a face-to-face meeting if at all possible.
Imagine if you were a high-ranking official or some other newsworthy kind of person and you found out by watching a cable news show that you were being fired. That’s extreme, I know, but it happens and that’s a shame. So, too, is using a text or an email to end a relationship in order to avoid a difficult conversation. You’d be surprised how often that happens! We coach against this type of approach.
Taking the easy way out indicates a lack of respect for the other person, and it minimizes the relationship—business or otherwise. Have the courage and integrity to deliver bad news in person, if possible. No one should learn about a bad situation via text, email or even snail mail.
Pick up the phone, if you can’t meet in person.
If you can’t sit down in the same room and talk, a phone call is the next best option. It might not be evident at first, but generally the person on the receiving end will ultimately appreciate hearing from you directly. For instance, if you are announcing the promotion of an individual, you might want to first contact the people who are not being promoted and tell them, “I wanted to call you out of respect for you and our relationship before this news is publicly announced …”
Don’t put it off.
Nothing travels faster than bad news. If there’s bad news to share, just do it. If you don’t, the gossip that will most certainly make its way around probably will be misleading and incorrect. Also, fear of the unknown often is worse than the actual bad situation.
Besides, procrastination will inevitably lead to anxiety and maybe even sleepless nights for you. Why make a difficult situation even harder? Getting it over with sooner rather than later is best for everyone involved.
Tailor the message to your audience.
Try to understand how the person on the receiving end will react. I have worked with family-business owners who’ve had to fire a family member for performance reasons. Of course, that kind of difficult conversation has both business and personal consequences. Done right, it can put both the person being let go and the company in a better position to be more successful. Done wrong, family gatherings from here on out will never be the same.
It’s important to always be transparent and truthful about all issues. Be concise, and keep your wording simple. If you don’t know the answer to something, say so. If you can only share a portion of the bad news, go ahead and do that but stick to your promise to keep everyone updated.
No one wants to be the bearer of bad news, but delivering your message in a strategic and timely manner that is sensitive to the person or persons on the receiving end is the best way to do it.
I challenge you to tackle any uncomfortable conversations the right way, right away. That’s how you do what you do better.