Tips for When You Have to Deliver Bad News at Work | TechWell

Tips for When You Have to Deliver Bad News at Work

Man delivering bad news to a coworker

I once had a project manager in my department, Roy, who didn’t relish delivering bad news, but neither did he flinch at doing so. Whenever I, as IT manager, had the unhappy task of telling one of our customers that we’d hit a major snag, Roy volunteered to do it for me. Fortunately, we rarely had to deliver bad news, but I was grateful that Roy was willing to be my bad news bearer.

Unlike Roy, most people don’t like to deliver bad news. If you’re one such person, your tendency may be to delay doing so. But most people on the receiving end would prefer to hear bad news sooner rather than later. Customers have told me emphatically that they need to know what’s happening because they, just like the IT team, have responsibilities and accountabilities, and the sooner they know what’s happening, the sooner they can make adjustments accordingly.

Of course, it’s understandable to want to delay in hopes that things will improve—maybe you’ll be able to catch up or resolve the problem—and no one will need to know what almost transpired. But once things go awry, they have a tendency to get worse before they get better, and then the bad news becomes even worse news. Therefore, it’s usually advisable to deliver bad news with as little delay as possible.

If you’re the one who will be doing it, don’t beat around the bush. Refrain from making small talk or dredging up whatever might pass for good news in hopes that it will soften the reaction to the bad news. And don’t try to be humorous. In casual situations, it might be okay to open with, “Which do you want to hear first, the good news or the bad news?” But doing this at work can make a bad situation worse. Instead, simply get to the point.

Delivering bad news is rarely easy and never fun. But delaying and worrying often make it worse than it needs to be.

If the news is truly atrocious or you’re inexperienced at delivering bad news, it may be useful to rehearse your delivery, either by yourself or with colleagues or friends you trust. Roy didn’t seem to need to rehearse giving bad news; to him, it came naturally. But most of the rest of us need practice.

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