9 Things To Avoid When Delivering Bad News

In situations where we have to deliver bad news to an employee, boss, or family member, we sometimes screw it up. Here are 9 things that to avoid when sharing bad news, thereby short-circuiting  a bad outcome:

1. We overcommunicate. With bad news, less is more. Our over-communication stems from having had more time to think and process the bad news and to decide what we want to say. For us, it makes sense to provide more details and be more helpful by supplying more knowledge. As we over communicate bad news, we tend to intellectualizing the news. The reason news may be bad is less about the content of the message and more the emotions surrounding its meaning. We get better results by giving others time to process, particularly emotionally. In old dragnet speak – just the facts ma’am.

2. We over-react. We get so excited about someone or something negative happening, that our listener focuses on our irrational response and they miss the message. The emotions of bad news need to be balanced with objectivity and mental energy so that we can calmly and slowly communicate, resulting in better processing by everyone.

3. We come unprepared with a resolution. Avoid showing up and delivering bad news with no thought as to how the listener may be overwhelmed or offended. You become the dumper and not the problem solver.

4. We minimize the bad news.  We downplay the bad news so much that the listener may not be receiving the full truth or even a clear message. If we sugarcoat bad news, the problem may worsen. Sometimes the truth hurts, but that more painful version,  may be the key to building a more trusting relationship based on truth, not vagueness.

5. We blab. We deliver bad news, like a TV news show. We don’t mean to reveal confidences or be a gossip, and yet we tell others details to feed our ego – “look how much I know.” We overplay the bad news story with too many or the wrong people. We may take a small problem and create a larger problem, since too many well-meaning people begin to fix, advise, and counsel, when in reality they should not be involved at all.

6. We start swearing. If we use highly charged negative language, we simply make bad news worse.

7. We wait for a long time. This is sad, since issues tend to compound over time, and delays may minimize options and choices for everyone.

8. We tell people bad news too soon. Ask yourself before you deliver bad news, “what is the person going to ask me after I say something to them?” Try to look ahead and predict responses. If you don’t have the answer to their question, you may need to investigate more before sharing bad news.

9. We complicate bad news. Sometimes we take simple news and make it confusing or complex. Your listener isn’t just mad or sad, they are now also confused. That’s not helpful.

We all deliver and receive bad news. Ask yourself, how you would like to hear it, and then listen to your own advice. Others process and hear the way you deliver the news more than the words themselves.

Good luck with the Bad.


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