Delivering bad news is so often blown out of proportion by the person charged with the task. Much time is spent mulling over what you’ll say and how you’ll say it, when in the end over-thinking and even the act of practising what you’ll say just ends up making you look like a phoney actor. In the workplace, delivering bad news should be treated like the act of pulling off a band aid — the quicker you do it, the less pain it causes.
When the time does come, the only professional way to get the job done, and minimise the long-term impact of the message you’re delivering, is to just spit it out. This is true even if you know the recipient has trouble dealing with directness. Delaying the inevitable meeting, or beating around the bush during a tense conversation doesn’t do anyone any favors.
With that said, here are some additional tips to help minimise the blow, so you don’t scar the recipient of the bad news for life:
Do it in person — or else!
This is a tough one to list as a must-do, because there’s likely a lot of shy-types and modern tech-saddled millennials out there who would just as soon receive a termination or layoff notice via text or email, as they would in the privacy of the boss’s office. However, doing it that way is impersonal, unprofessional and takes away your ability to show empathy to the recipient — you’ll lose face and if the person values being told things in person, the bad news will be made all the more crushing by the lack of face-to-face.
Privacy is best — no witnesses!
If you were to tell your best friend they have spinach in between their front teeth in private, they might well appreciate the heads up. However, do it around a few strangers or casual acquaintances and they might have a hard time forgiving you! Same holds true for the people you work with, keep it one on one — even one extra person in the room can be viewed as disrespectful.
Body language tells the real story — don’t lie or otherwise sugar coat the message!
If you lie — even a little white lie — your body language is very likely to give you away. Only a sociopath can truly lie without scratching their face, fidgeting, or otherwise looking very uncomfortable. Telling the truth empowers you with confidence and the recipient will respect you for it (eventually!) Even a little innocent sugar coating is highly inappropriate — if you’re not likely to call them back after a layoff, or can’t give them the raise or promotion they asked for this year, make it clear. This is business, it’s not personal — you’re not telling someone their mother died, right?
Beating around the bush never works when delivering bad news.
If you take nothing else from this, remember that most of us just want the punchline. The person receiving the message you’re delivering — whether it be a job termination, layoff, drastic changes in the company, etcetera — certainly won’t appreciate you beating around the bush after you hit them with the news. They may even end up hating you for it, going over and over in their mind how you started off asking them how their family was doing, only to stab them in the guts telling them the company was downsizing and they didn’t make the final cut.
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