The Brief Side of Being the Bearer of Bad News

It’s not easy to be the bearer of bad news, but it’s sometimes necessary. When you have bad news to deliver, make sure it is delivered in the most professional, respectful, and human way possible.

Nobody wants to tell the boss the project is going to be late, your significant other you’ve bounced a check, there is negative feedback from your most important client, or you have the unfortunate responsibility of having to fire somebody. However, taking the time to prepare and get to the core of the issue quickly will make the bad news much easier to swallow.

Bearing Bad News: Stop Talking and Let People Process

Bearing bad news is hard. Don’t make it harder for yourself and people involved by continuing to talk. You’re only going to make things worse. Be brief in delivering your message, stop talking, and let people take time for it to sink in.

Knowing when to take a break is just as important as setting up the idea. The mind is a processor, and if you keep hitting the send button, the effect can be futile.

John Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray and Christmas, says when bearing bad news, “The meeting should be focused on delivering the information. The boss is not the person to give that person a lot of comfort, because he or she made the decision.”

The Brief Side of Being the Bearer of Bad News

When giving tough feedback, give it to people straight. Those moments can be defining for them and for you. Be direct. Deliver the bad news in a kind, humane, but firm way. You have to talk about the details, but it’s not the time to get into a long discussion that could lead to a stressful, unnecessary dispute.

If you have the unfortunate responsibility to fire someone, consider the following:

  • Avoid lengthy discussions.
  • Keep it short. Keep in mind the person will need time to process the bad news.
  • Doors close all the time. Help those who hear bad news recognize the moment and then focus their energy on rebuilding.

Delivering bad news is about having integrity, and being brief is your best bet to being honest.

What’s more, it could start a conversation that turn things around. When you are clear, people hear more than what you say.

Three important issues to consider when delivering bad news:

  1. Problems: Do I state the bad news simply and clearly, not pulling punches?
  2. Causes: Do I state the real reasons this is the case so people know why?
  3. Possibility: Can I take advantage of a tough talk to create a heart-to-heart conversation?

Bearing bad news is a matter of mastering and minimizing a moment. Be mindful and do it well!

Want to know more about being brief? Check out The Brief Practitioner, an online course from The Brief Lab that teaches executives how to avoid information overload and become lean, effective leaders and communicators.


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