The fact is, bad news exists; there’s no way around it. People lose jobs, prospects choose competitors, projects hit roadblocks, and corporate structures change. Sugarcoating the facts, dodging phone calls, and stringing people along only makes matters worse. Believe me, there are much better ways to keep things on the up-and-up. For instance:
- You have to let someone go. Don’t hem and haw; it causes extra stress by prolonging the inevitable. Say, “I have some difficult news to share: Your position is being eliminated, effective today.” Then provide details about the next steps in the process.
- You miss a deadline. Resist the urge to fabricate excuses or blame technology, or even worse, a colleague. Messages like “I didn’t get your email” or “My server was down” sound an awful lot like “My dog ate my homework.” Instead, be authentic and apologetic: “I intended to have this to you as scheduled and, while there were issues outside of my control, the truth is I should have allocated more time to the project. I’ll be more diligent going forward.”
- You don’t want to hire a vendor. Get them on the phone right away and say, “We’ve decided not to move forward and here’s why.” You don’t have to divulge every detail behind your decision, but they’ll feel better if they get at least one reason. They’ll probably counter that reason, but simply stick to your message and politely end the conversation.
Some messages do more harm than good if delivered prematurely. But when you can and should spill the truth, deliver it objectively, the way you’d want to hear it. You’ll earn the respect and trust of others who don’t want to be patronized; they just want to know what’s going on.
Before you act . . .
Think back: You’ve probably received your share of bad news. What did the deliverer say or do that made it easier or harder to take? Incorporate the good techniques and phrases into your messages.