Delivering Bad News Doesn’t Have To Be All Bad
Edited: April 2023
It was just brought to your attention that an unexpected permitting issue came up and this will cause you to miss an important schedule milestone. Now you need to tell your client. Giving bad news is never a welcome task, but when it’s necessary, try these effective strategies to get you started and help steer the conversation towards a positive outcome.
YOUR MINDSET – BE CALM, BE CLEAR
What is your frame of mind? You may be displeased and dreading to deliver the news. But, a professional and positive can-do attitude that takes responsibility and/or conveys the desire to resolve the issue together can go a long way in keeping the situation calm.
Make sure you are clear about what the problem is and determine possible resolutions.
Consider how the person might react. Put yourself in their shoes. How would you react?
An empathetic view may be all that is needed to work through the problem.
BEGINNING THE CONVERSATION
Often this is the hardest step in delivering undesirable news. Some examples (under different scenarios), to get the ball rolling:
“I have something I need to discuss with you. Do you have a moment?”
“I’d like to talk about _______ with you, but first I’d like to get your point of view.”
“Do you have a minute to talk about a way I think will help us work together more effectively?”
“I think we have different perceptions about _______. I’d like to hear your thinking on this.”
If the receiver of the bad news becomes agitated, don’t react. Commit to remaining calm and refrain from rising to their level of emotion. Matching their excitement level will surely exacerbate the situation.
Once the conversation begins, communicate the news clearly.
Apologize if necessary.
Discuss possible resolutions.
Be careful not to over promise results in your desire to make things right.
If appropriate, discuss ways to ensure the situation does not recur.
Follow up with a confirmation email for anything that should be in writing. If there is a scope change, complete the appropriate paper work.
THE TAKE-AWAY - When delivering undesirable news, remember the 3 C’s - Be Calm, Be Clear and Communicate.