Have you ever labored over how to share bad news with someone? If you’re a mompreneur like me – or if you own your own business sometimes it’s very tough to figure out when, where and how to deliver bad news – especially if it’s to people you need to help you run or manage your business. Whenever we are faced with having to share bad news, it can seem daunting! We’ve been so ‘programmed’ to only share good news, or to put on a false face that often we become paralyzed. And somehow it seems as if we do not have the skills to share bad news. In a recent training event, I was reminded of these important communication tips and I’d like to share them with you!
We communicate to exchange information and to build relationships, but there will always be times when we need to share bad news. The good news is that sharing bad news is a skill and, because it is a skill, it can be learned. So, to get better at communicating bad news, follow these simple strategies.
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The Lowdown on communicating bad news!
First, let’s begin by agreeing on some common communication definitions and understandings about communication effectiveness.
There is In-tra-personal Communication: communicate within ourselves (otherwise known as self talk), and there is In-ter-personal Communication: communication between ourselves and others.
For the purposes of this article, we’ll focus on the way we communicate with others – or interpersonal communication.
There are typically three ways we exchange information:
- Face to Face – Here we share content and context, receive all non-verbal cues, facial expressions, tone, pitch and inflection. Because of all these points of inference, face to face communication is most effective for interpersonal relationships. Face to face communication is generally the easiest to manage and monitor because you always have the opportunity to rescue yourself if you perceive that a message is received poorly.
- Voice to Voice – Although still effective, it pales in comparison to face to face communication because of the fact that nearly 80% of our message is conveyed verbally. Because audio includes tone, inflection and pitch, we can make up for context by using our voice effectively.
- Written to Read – Of the three, this mode is the least effective because it is missing tone, inflection, body and facial expressions and context. Of course, this is the one method most of us have relied on very heavily in a work setting.
For purposes of this post, let’s focus on the four common types of interpersonal communication:
- Routine Information – Sharing information and details necessary in day to day
- Good News – Sharing news that is exciting, enticing, surprising or generally happy
- Persuasive – Sharing news that is intended to call people to action
- Bad News – Sharing news that may be controversial, difficult or disappointing.
There are also two styles of communication:
- Deductive which is used for routine communication and good news
- Inductive which is use for persuasive and bad news
Here is a simple model to follow for Deductive Communication used for routine and good news:
- OPEN: with the Big Idea – the fundamental reason for the communication.
- MIDDLE: Provide Supporting Facts – any information that backs up or clarifies the big idea
- CLOSE: Restate the big idea a bit differently than you did when you opened the conversation and close the conversation appropriately for the audience.
The two most common errors made when using the deductive communication model, are:
- Failing to put the big idea first and
- Making routine communications too long. People sometimes drone on and on when no additional communication is necessary.
This is the model for Inductive Communication used for delivering bad news or when you must be persuasive:
- OPEN: A literally factual, non-controversial statement to which all parties would agree
a) Outline non-personalized, objective facts including specific instances (leaving out any personal pronouns – you and I, specifically)
b) Deliver the non-personalized news or make the persuasive statement
- CLOSE: Personalize a statement to shift to a positive future orientation and support available.
The four most common errors that occur when it comes to sharing this type of information (inductive communication) are:
- Avoidance (especially in the anticipation of sharing ‘bad news’), the worst thing you can do is avoid giving the difficult news.
- ‘Fire-hosing‘ or blasting the messenger by focusing on character flaws and being judgmental about traits and behaviors.
- Misleading the receiver or leaving them with a misunderstanding of expectations
- Soft-pedaling the news so the receiver doesn’t really ‘get it’.
Here is an example of how the inductive communication model is used. This example is about a volunteer who is not fulfilling responsibilities. After numerous attempts to connect to find out what is going on and no consequential response, here is how one volunteer board collectively used the Inductive Communication Model to ‘fire’ the volunteer.
- OPEN: A literally factual, non-controversial statement to which all parties would agree:
- Example: People volunteer their time with best of intentions.
- MIDDLE: a) Outline non-personalized (no you or I) facts including specific instances:
- Example: In October the board asked for volunteers to serve on the public service project committee. There was an agreement that all volunteers would fulfill a set of responsibilities including attending committee meetings and completing assigned tasks.
- On October 15th there was a required committee meeting that was missed.
- On November 8th, the committee chair left a voice mail message requesting an update on the assigned tasks.
- No ‘return call’ was received.
- On November 10th there was a required committee meeting that was missed.
- On November 20th an e-mail was sent requesting an update on the ability to fulfill the assigned responsibilities of the position.
- There has been no response.
- MIDDLE: b) Deliver the non-personalized bad news or make the persuasive statement
- Example: At this time, the committee needs to move ahead with completing all tasks for our upcoming public service project and is therefore relieving you of your responsibilities to the committee so they can be reassigned.
- CLOSE: Personalize a statement to shift to a positive future orientation
- Example: People volunteer with the best of intentions. Sometimes, though, life can get in the way. I sincerely hope that you are in good health. I hope to see you at a meeting soon and that at a future time, you will be able to share your talents on another chapter project.
Start using the models today to help you improve your communication with others. Share your thoughts or communication success tips below in the comments box!
If you need help communicating with your team members? Consider my course “Can we just get along? Communication Success with Social Styles.“
Contact me to find out more!