by Jeremiah Miller, Forging Leaders
“Miah, your mom and I are getting divorced.”
“Son, you’re going to need surgery to repair that knee.”
“Listen Jeremiah, this isn’t working out. I think we should break up.”
I’ve been on the receiving end of my share of awful news.
I’ve also had to be the one to break bad news to someone else. If given the choice, there is no doubt, I would much rather receive it than give it.
I’ve had so many sleepless nights because I was holding onto bad news. I just couldn’t, or wouldn’t find the courage to have the conversation.
This happens in business all the time. The employee doesn’t want to tell their customer. The manager doesn’t want to come down on his employee. Business partners don’t bring up a problem because they are scared of how the other will react.
Avoiding these conversations, or waiting until they become crises causes so much drama and unnecessary conflict.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
Here are five tips that will help you become a bad news Jedi:
1. Get right to the point.
Confucius said “The anticipation of pleasure IS pleasure.” Well, the opposite is also true, “The anticipation of pain IS pain.” You aren’t helping anybody by starting off the conversation talking about the weather or asking them how their weekend went. They can tell you’re nervous about something, and all you are doing is creating more anxiety for yourself. Don’t string them along, let them know right off the bat. If I was calling a client to give them bad news, it would sound like this. “Hi Horace, do you have a couple of minutes to talk? Good. Listen, I’ve got some bad news for you.”
2. The bottom line.
Now that you’ve prepared them, tell them, as clearly as possible, the bottom line news. If you have a long story explaining the background and all of the nuance leading up to the bad news, skip it for now. All of the background details can come later. Now is the time for brevity. All three bombshells I included at the beginning of this article perfect examples of what I mean. If you have to fire somebody at work, the conversation should go like this. “Listen Darren, I’ve got some bad news.” [pause] “We’re letting you go.” [pause]
3. Provide more information and ask for questions.
OK, so you’ve bottom lined them and paused to give them a second or two to absorb what you’ve said. Now, tell them what led up to the decision or the event. Transparency is the best approach. Once you’ve explained, ask them if they have any questions. What really scares people is uncertainty, so be clear and share the information you have.
4. Take ownership.
Most of the anxiety we have around delivering bad news has to do with how the other person is going to react. Will they blame us? Will they hate us? What will they think? The best way to give the bad news without ruining the relationship is to take responsibility for it. It’s going to be hard to blame you and hold a grudge if you are honest with them and take responsibility for whatever happened. This works great even if it wasn’t your fault. Everybody expects you to blame someone else for the screw up, but when you take ownership it actually creates space for the person on the receiving end of the bad news to do the same thing.
The energy that you take into any uncomfortable conversation will set the tone for the outcome of that conversation. Whenever I need to break bad news to somebody, I know that I will be at my best if I remember my mantra “LGC”. It stands for “Love, Gratitude, Curiosity.” I remind myself to demonstrate these three attributes to the other person. Love – This means that I care more about the other person than I do about the outcome of the conversation. Gratitude – I appreciate them, and I am grateful for the good that they have brought into my life. Curiosity – I am more interested in asking questions about what they think than I am about giving my opinion.
Anybody can be a leader when things are going well. In fact, the value of leadership plummets when times are good. It’s when we’re facing crisis that leadership really proves its worth. In fact, leadership is really only tested during difficult times. Delivering bad news using these tips will make you a stronger, more confident, more authentic leader.
So, what is the conversation that you’ve been avoiding because you’ve been scared of how they will react?
Is it with your wife?
Your best friend?
Use these five strategies and go have the conversation. It won’t be nearly as bad as you’ve made it out to be.
Jeremiah Miller is a leadership coach in the Sacramento area. He helps his clients become the heroes of their own life stories. You can follow his writing and learn more about what he does at www.forgingleaders.com
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