If you have never had to deliver bad news, you will. There are good ways and bad ways to deliver this news. I have proven over time that I am good at the bad ways. More than anything, I’m writing this post to myself.
I fired my first team member. I asked a friend if he was having an affair. I told a friend that a decision didn’t go his way. All of this in the last 18 months. My default style – and I blame the Marine Corps for this – is very direct. It is blunt. I like to tell them the headline right up front. Then I explain.
This does not tend to go well. They hear the bad news, and then don’t hear anything else I say. Looking back, I’m better at blind-siding people than giving them the best opportunity to receive the news well and with grace.
In the most recent case, my pastor was with me. His comment to me when we were done – “You weren’t awesome.” Frankly, I want to be awesome at this. I want the words gentle, sensitive, and empathetic to apply as much as firm, decisive, and fair. So that got me hunting. I have researched some best practices and distilled them for you in the list that follows.
9 Next Practices in Delivering Bad News
- In person – This should be a no-brainer, but if you are conflict-averse, it will be very difficult. Delivering bad news is very emotional and your non-verbal communication has a huge impact. Not over the phone. Definitely not by email. Do it in person.
- ASAP – Bad news is not like wine. It does not get better with age. We too often stall, delay, or hesitate because it is hard. Deliver bad news as soon as appropriate.
- Sandwich – You may have heard of the sandwich method. I’ve heard this taught numerous different times. I’ve even coached my wife on how to use it. But I have failed to use it. The sandwich method is Positive – Negative – Positive. In other words, you sandwich the bad news between positive statements or good news. This is what I should have done in the case where my pastor remarked “not awesome.”
- Decisive – Being decisive is hugely important when delivering bad news. The one receiving the news needs to know that the decision has been made – period. That may sound harsh, but it is not. The alternative is to allow for wiggle room. Wiggle room gives false hope, and that is truly harsh. When it is time to deliver the news, look the person in the eye and give a straight-forward and decisive delivery.
- Empathy – Empathy is the ability to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and feel what they are feeling. I almost completely lack this skill. Would that CVS had a pill for this. I would buy it. This was the advice given me by one of my confidants. Try to anticipate how the other person will feel.
- Surprise – Rather, don’t surprise. I do this to people too often. I don’t want them to know ahead of time that there could be bad news, so I surprise them. This is mean. Give people a head’s up about what’s coming. It allows them to prepare themselves emotionally. It can take shock out of their reaction. Warning them is compassionate.
- Truthful and Concrete – This is the part that I’m good at. Don’t beat around the bush. Tell them why. Give them the truth. But give it to them with as much love as possible. I’ve heard the quote: “Truth without Love is brutality. Love without Truth is sentimentality.” I think it applies here. Speak the truth in love.
- Silver Lining – I hesitated putting this one on the list because it could sound like spin. However, there is almost always a silver lining. I think it can be positive to point it out. If not for them to consider when their emotions come back down to earth.
- Dignity and Respect – Should you do the first 8 on the list, the result should be that the person hearing the bad news will feel treated with dignity and respect. That is your goal. A goal that I have repeatedly failed at.
Question: What have you found to be the best way to deliver bad news? You can leave a comment by clicking here.