5 Big Mistakes to Avoid When You’re Delivering Bad News (And What to Do Instead)
Whether you’re ending a relationship or you’re tasked with telling someone they’re fired, delivering bad news this way makes everything worse.
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When you have to be the bearer of bad news, it can be tempting to try and make a difficult situation a little more comfortable--for both you and the recipient of your message. But, quite often, people's attempts to make things better backfire.
If you have to deliver bad news, avoid making these five big mistakes:
Mistake #1 - Making Small Talk
Talking about the weather or asking about someone's day might be an attempt to ease into the conversation. But wasting the other person's time on small talk is disrespectful.
They may be confused about why you called a special meeting if you're talking about the rain. Or, their anticipation may continue to climb as they try to guess what kind of news you're going to give.
What to do instead: Give a quick sentence that acknowledges what you're about to say is difficult news to deliver. Start by saying, "I'm sorry to have to tell you this," or "There's not an easy way to tell you this."
Mistake #2 - Softening the Blow Too Much
I can't tell you how many people have sat on my therapy couch saying things like, "I just don't understand. My boss says I was doing a great job but then he said he had to let me go because I wasn't closing enough deals. Which is it?"
Whether you're tempted to say, "It's not you, it's me," or "Just because it's not working right now doesn't mean it can't later," softening the blow isn't a good idea. Don't try to mix praise with criticism and avoid saying things could change down the road if that's not true.
What to do instead: Be kind but direct. Although it may sound harsh to say, "You've made too many mistakes. You can't work here anymore," it offers the recipient a clear explanation and will help them move on.
Mistake #3- Starting the Conversation at the Wrong Time or Wrong Place
It might be tempting to hold the conversation during a time that's convenient for you or to casually mention it when there are other people around just to make it feel less awkward. But, time and place really matter.
Choose a time that will work best for the other individual. Firing someone in a meeting room that is going to be occupied in five minutes isn't kind. You also shouldn't deliver the news via email or on the phone. Do it face-to-face.
What to do instead: Choose a private area that shows respect for other person and make sure you have time to answer the individual's questions.
Mistake #4 - Expecting the Other Person to Comfort You
Even though you might just be the messenger, you might take the brunt of the other person's anger. No matter what the other person says, however, don't think it's up to that individual to comfort you.
Saying, "How do you think this makes me feel to have to you tell you this?" or, "Do you think this was an easy decision to make?" won't help. Don't expect the other person to empathize over hard it was for you to share the bad news. It feels much worse for them on the receiving end and it will likely take a while for that individual to process the information.
What to do instead: Accept that the other individual may get angry with you. Let the other person feel upset, but don't allow abusive behavior.
Mistake #5 - Being Unprepared
You shouldn't read a script to deliver bad news. But, you should have your talking points prepared.
When you're nervous or upset, you're likely to forget what you're going to say. And if the other person becomes upset, you'll be even more likely to get off course with your conversation.
Having a simple outline of the points you want to deliver can ensure that you don't forget anything. You may only have one chance to talk to the person, so it's important to get it right.
What to do instead: Write down a simple outline of the major points you want to cover. Keep the paper in front of you during the conversation to make sure you cover the information you wanted to share.
Take a Deep Breath and Deliver the News
Telling someone something that will change their life for the worse, isn't supposed to be easy. Your discomfort shows you're a caring individual.
So make sure you deliver the news in the most compassionate way possible. Take a deep breath and communicate your message well.