Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Delivering Bad News

Abstract

Delivering bad news is never easy. This practice clarifies possible reactions to bad news, and provides techniques for effectively communicating bad news while building credibility.

Issue

As unpleasant as it may seem, “We” may need to deliver bad news. How one delivers the content will definitely influence how one is heard.


Action

Let us learn to recognize barriers to the free flow of information by accounting for the following behaviors:

People who anticipate bad news would rather not call attention to themselves by asking questions. Find ways to alleviate this fear.

No one wants to appear stupid in front of his/her peers. Stress the importance of all questions. Some people feel too unimportant to ask questions. Demonstrate that their input is important. When delivering bad news lay it on the table like you would any good news — be honest.

Anticipate reactions and deal with them appropriately. Some common reactions include:

Constructive/Realistic: i.e., expressing anger or hurt but probing for answers to questions. The most rational of responses and the easiest to deal with.

Anger: When this emotion takes over it can cause a person to become aggressive, which can lead to a verbal attack. Allow the person to vent his/her anger while remaining calm; acknowledge that you hear him or her.

Shock: Can manifest as uncertainty or passivity. In this situation, ask questions to ensure the person has heard the message.

Denial/Control: The reaction may be unemotional, but these people are often in the most danger because they refuse to deal with the situation. Ask questions to be sure they heard the message, then provide structure, and clarify next steps.

Regardless of the news, be sure to align with the decision (even if it is an unpopular, uncomfortable, or one you did not personally make). Above all, aim to avoid an "us vs. them" situation.

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