I hate to give bad news.
I’m not alone in this. People, in general, do not like to give or receive bad news. This is due to the negative (or negativity) bias, which is our brain’s built-in response that tends to give negative events more weight than positive ones.
So people feel it more when the lose $5 than when they gain $5. It also explains why when given feedback on things, we tend to focus on the negative aspects even when there was a ton of positive feedback in there.
This is an evolutionary thing, and even knowing the existence does not diminish the effect.
One of the effects of this is delaying tasks especially when it involves any negative connotations, like my monthly reports, even if there are positive things to put in there. The negative aspects are enough to make me feel knots in my stomach.
Or what about dealing with poor performance from a team member. Yeah, I’ll get around to dealing with that sometime. Maybe he’ll buck up on his own.
But it’s obvious that these things need to be addressed. And when you have to give bad news, it’s best to just get it done.
Here are some things to try.
- Prepare for the conversation
Give some thought to what you’re going to say. It’s not about scripting it, but mentally preparing yourself for the situation. Think also not just how the other person may feel and react, but also how you would, and plan for that action as well.
- Understand the purpose and reframe the situation
Why is it important to give this bad news? You will feel better able to give the news if it is justified with a reason.
And reframe the situation if you could. It’s not that you’re giving them bad news of a delay on a project, but your allowing your boss to either plan for it, or assist in getting it on track.
- Choose an appropriate method of delivery
If you’re like me, you like to send emails rather than talk in person, especially when it’s bad news. However, this is not suitable for all situations.
"Let’s send a text to your staff member to let them know that they’re being let go." Said no one ever.
Take time to determine what is the best method of delivery and prepare yourself. (see 1.)
- Don’t procrastinate
Bad news depreciates with time, and by that I mean it gets worse, not better.
Don’t keep putting off delivering the bad news, especially with the hope that somehow it would magically disappear. Remember that you want to give the recipient of the bad news time to also accept and prepare.
Don’t make it worse for others.
- Offer amends, recommendations or way forward
Think of ways that you can offer amends, or recommendations to reduce the impact, or a way forward to continue. Something that may lessen the blow.
For example, if you’re going to miss a deadline, suggest ways to get back on track. Or if you can’t deliver something fully, perhaps you can deliver something partially that can suffice for the time being.
- Prepare for the consequences
One thing I always ask before doing something risky is "what’s the worst that can happen?" And now knowing the worst, accept that’s the worst, and think that if that happens, then what.
Like, if you miss this deadline the project will be late and the company will lose millions. Then you will lose your job and you will be unemployed. So given this then what. Then you find another job, and now you have a story of how you faced adversity and triumphed.
You’ll often find that the worst is not as bad as you make it out to be. Unless you’re in the mafia, then the worst is really bad.