How to Deliver Bad News

How to Deliver Bad News

BAD NEWS requires good writing. When delivering hard-to-swallow messages, it’s imperative that organizations take great care in crafting communications. Below are some useful tips to keep in mind.

Try a Sandwich

The so-called “sandwich approach” to writing bad news statements is one which the communication first offers good news, then the bad news, and then good news again — the bad news is “sandwiched” between good news.

While this method can sometimes work, it’s also a little trite and can come across as contrived. It requires, therefore, some real consideration before being employed.

For etiquette trainer Syndi Seid, the Sandwich Method is the way to go. “The Sandwich Technique lets you build and maintain relationship without tearing down friendships or professional relationships,” Seid writes in her blogpost, “The Sandwich Technique to Deliver Bad News or Complaints.”

Offers Solutions or Alternatives

It’s not enough to say to clients or partners, “You now have a problem.” You must also say, “And here’s an idea for addressing it.”

In his TechRepublic article, “10 Tips for Delivering Bad News,” attorney Calvin Sun puts it this way: “Do you have a plan to address or resolve the situation? If so, keep it in mind and offer to share it with the other person or group after you have delivered the bad news.”

He adds, “In doing so, you will demonstrate a willingness to work through the problem and an ability to think and plan ahead. If the person receiving bad news is a key client or your boss, planning ahead could be valuable to your future.”

Avoid ‘Trigger’ Words and Jargon

Eyes will glaze over or roll way back at the sight of some overused business jargon. If you have tough news to deliver, do your audience a favor: be authentic.

As customer service consultant Jeff Mowatt explains it in his article, “10 Ways to Break It to Them Gently,” word choice is key in sounding reasonable. “Two words that act as hot buttons: It’s policy,” he writes. “A better approach is to explain why a policy exists.”

Be Wary of Humor

It can be offensive when someone makes light of your difficult situation. For this reason, employ empathy. Be sensitive.

Toastmasters International is a non-profit leadership education organization. In its magazine article, “Delivering Bad Business News,” written by Kathy S. Berger, explains that humor can oversimplify a difficult situation.

“It isn’t the one-two punch of the good news/bad news joke,” she writes. “Few people appreciate humor in serious situations that involve undesirable outcomes.”

Consider the Medium

How you deliver news can be as an important a choice as what you say. You wouldn’t, for example, quit a project via a Facebook post.

In an adaption of The Wall Street Journal Guide to Management, “Should I Use Email?,” writer Alan Murray explains that email may not be a suitable solution either. Instead, consider in-person communications or old-fashioned paper communications.

“E-mail spreads like wildfire,” Murray writes. “We all know stories of people who wrote emails criticizing someone, and then mistakenly sent it to the person they were criticizing.”

Choose the Day

For companies looking to minimize any backlash associated with bad news, one thing to consider is the day the news is delivered.

As Wall Street Journal reporter Leslie Kwoh points out in her article, “Late on Friday? Dump the Bad News,” many corporations choose to release “negative” press releases between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. Friday afternoon.

“Filings watchers have grown accustomed to a flurry of company statements between 4 and 5:30 p.m. Eastern time on Fridays, the narrow gap between the weekly market close and Securities and Exchange Commission’s closing hour,” Kwoh reports.


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