It’s likely you’ve experienced situations where you had to fire an employee, severe relations with a bad client or report to your company that a major project’s been shelved. It’s part of what comes with the job.
But the way in which you deliver that news makes all the difference in what happens afterward and how you’re perceived as a business leader. Here are tips for the most effective ways to fulfill this unpleasant responsibility with the best chance that people will hear what you’re saying and respond favorably.
1. Plan ahead. Think about what you want to say before sitting down with an employee or calling a client. In some cases, writing out your message can help clarify your thoughts. Be sure to include the key reasons behind your decision. Ideally, leave some time between writing down your notes and reviewing them later (a few hours or a day), so that you can look more objectively at what you plan to say.
2. Be quick about it. When you have the conversation, a direct approach is always the best strategy. Beating around the bush only intensifies a tense situation, since the person you’re addressing is unlikely to hear any of your carefully worded preface (they’re waiting for the shoe to drop). Get to the point as quickly as possible and be sure to include all of the relevant information.
3. Do it yourself. Depending on the situation, it’s usually best to give the bad news yourself, rather than relying on others. Not only does this demonstrate leadership, it avoids misunderstandings and unnecessary complications that can ensue when someone else is charged with delivering your message.
4. Offer a clear explanation. The people getting your news are most likely curious to know the reasons behind your decision. Some of the impact can be lessened when the other party gains an understanding of your perspective. In the case of a termination, the recipient may also learn something that helps him or her improve their performance and avoid objectionable behavior in the future.
5. Be authentic. People on the receiving end of bad news are acutely aware of the sincerity of the message they’re hearing. If you bear some of the blame for the negative situation, be honest about it (both to yourself and to the other person), so as to avoid misunderstandings and needless guilt later on.
6. Practice empathy at all times. You know why you have to give someone bad news and you also get how important it is to do so properly. But until you empathize with the individual, you’re not owning up to your part in the situation. Put yourself in that person’s shoes, listen closely to how they respond and let them work through the difficult news in their own way. You’ve no doubt received bad news at some point in your career; never forget what it feels like and you’ll be more attuned to the other party’s mental state.
7. Offer options, where appropriate. If you’re letting a client go because you feel it’s not a good fit, temper your message with some constructive advice on other options for that client. Consider referring them to another business, where their needs will be better met.
8. Don’t waver in your decision. You can’t always predict how a “bad news conversation” is going to go. But it’s essential that you remain resolute in the decision you’ve made. It’s OK to hear out the other person but when you know you’ve made the right call, stick to your position and try to end the discussion on a positive note.
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