As a leader, there will inevitably be times when you must handle a delicate situation with an employee or customer. These are never easy, and can strike fear in the heart of even the most seasoned leader. However, when you follow a few simple preparation steps, you can lessen your own trepidation about the situation and help ensure that the news you’ll be communicating is received in the most positive way possible. These steps can help you do a better job at delivering bad news, as well as helping you to feel less stressed about this part of the job.
1. Keep your cool. Don’t have a difficult conversation when you’re angry. It is better to put the conversation off until you have a cooler head. First of all, you are more likely to put the situation in perspective if you have a little time. By the time you’re ready to have the conversation you may have realized that the situation isn’t as dire as you originally thought. Plus, when you have a conversation with a cool head, you will look far more credible to the person you’re talking with. In particular, do not discuss bad news with a customer when you are emotional about the situation.
2. Put the good with the bad. Never deliver all bad news. This is particularly important when you are coaching an employee regarding poor job performance. No employee is all bad, and it is important to reiterate the good things an employee does when you are delivering bad news. Otherwise, you risk morale decreasing and an employee become paralyzed and unable to continue to perform.
3. Have the facts. Be sure you have documentation to support your case. This gives you credibility and helps decrease the chances that you look like a “hothead”.
4. Offer a solution. When you can say “we can do this instead” to a customer, or “you should try this” to an employee, you are able to end your conversation on a positive note. Giving concrete ways that the bad situation can be improved or reversed helps the other party see a way of handling the problem, rather than leaving them feeling as though the situation is an impossible one.
Difficult discussions are often the most dreaded part of a leadership job. But, unfortunately, these are inescapable. Being prepared, being cool headed and offering a solution to the problem can help you turn a bad situation into one that creates significant improvement in your organization.