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When there’s bad news to share

5 things to think about before you speak
Blog 103 Bad News

There are some conversations we all wish we could avoid, ones we put off because we know they’ll be hard and possibly upsetting. No one likes to be the bearer of bad news, and very few people derive energy or satisfaction from delivering it. We know there’s a personal risk to doing so.

Such conversations can be in the context of our professional environment when we need to inform someone that they aren’t getting that promotion, that their behaviour is offending other people, that maybe they aren’t getting a pay rise or just aren’t ready for that secondment. At other times, these conversations take place in a personal context, like when we need to tell someone we can’t make it to an event that’s important to them, or when we need to broach something that’s upsetting us.

Procrastination may feel tempting. Imagine having to tell someone their BO is really bad, and you know they have no idea everyone is talking about it. The thought of having this conversation or any of the ones above could trigger a burst of anxiety: a pounding heart, sweaty palms, quaking body, shallow breathing – hardly the best way to approach such a situation.

Although Emotional Intelligence is a crucial factor in positive communication and good leadership, it’s been found in one study done in the medical community (imagine the bad news that they have to deliver) that EI alone is not enough when it comes to such conversations, although it’s suggested that EI made it easier to learn the critical skills of how to deliver the news.

In Daniel Goleman’s book, Primal Leadership, he discusses two different ways of presenting bad news: one drives emotions negatively, resulting in ‘dissonance’, the other drives emotions positively, resulting in ‘resonance’. This resonance is achieved by connecting with people on an emotional level and tapping into their values.

We’ve put together 5 ways to prepare before you deliver the bad news:

  1. The most respectful thing you can do is have the conversation as soon as you can. Set a time (preferably early in the day, as good moods tend to peak at noon) and do everything to make it happen. Procrastinating only increases your anxiety and rarely serves the other person. We lose impact if we try to talk to someone about something that happened a month ago. People can feel embarrassed learning that you’ve thought about the issue for so long and never said anything.
  2. Look at the situation from the other person’s perspective. Spend some time considering the issue from their side, and how they are going to feel about the conversation. Reflect on all the context you know. Keep in mind that there are likely details of which you are unaware. You might write down questions you could ask and think them through first.
  3. Challenge your intention. Be really clear about why you are the person delivering this news. If it’s in any way about payback, ego, or undermining the person then STOP. Your intention needs to have integrity. Is this conversation about serving the other person’s wellbeing and success? Be responsible.
  4. Structure your thoughts and check your facts. Focus on the behaviour or issue and not the person. Pick no more than three key messages you want to deliver and make sure they’re heard. Know what your ideal outcome would be: is it that you feel they understand, or that they go away feeling empowered?
  5. Have a clean-up plan. Difficult conversations often need recovery time. Plan for how you’ll support the person if they need time to process what’s been said. In a work context this might be: ‘I’ve made time in our diaries for us to catch up in three days for coffee so that we can check on how you’re feeling.’ In a personal context it might be: ‘It really matters to me that you know I’m here; shall we go for lunch on the weekend?’

Prepare yourself and commit to doing everything you can on behalf of the recipient. They may not thank you for it, but you’ll know you’ve made it as easy as possible.

- The Coach Place Global

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