How to deliver hard news

Delivering hard news is a delicate process that requires careful planning and consideration of the other party's feelings and reactions. Executive coach Ed Batista outlines a three-step framework for delivering bad news in a way that minimizes rancor and increases everyone's willingness to work together toward a solution:

  1. Initiate the Conversation Promptly: Begin by initiating the conversation, even though it may be uncomfortable. Delaying the conversation can lead to a loss of trust, especially if the parties involved hear the bad news from another source. By starting the conversation, you retain control over the conditions of the dialogue and demonstrate a willingness to address the issue head-on, which can actually build trust. (Excerpts [1], [2])

  2. Explain the Cause or What You've Learned: After being candid about the bad news, provide an explanation for its cause. If the cause is known, even if it's embarrassing or reflects poorly on your actions or oversight, sharing this information is critical. If the cause is unknown, offer what you've learned so far and potential explanations, while making it clear that you are still investigating. This helps prevent others from constructing their own negative narratives to fill in the gaps of understanding. (Excerpts [3], [4])

  3. Share Your Plan of Action: Instead of asking "What should we do?" or dictating "Here's what I'm going to do," describe what you're planning to do based on your current understanding. This approach invites input from others and shows your openness to their ideas, while also demonstrating your proactive stance on addressing the issue. It's important to clarify decision-making rights and procedures to avoid confusion during the crisis. (Excerpt [5])

In addition to this framework, it's important to consider the emotional aspects of delivering bad news. Acknowledge the difficult emotions involved but avoid seeking empathy from those affected by the news, as their feelings take precedence. Manage your own emotions by seeking support from trusted individuals who can provide objective listening. (Excerpts [5], [6], [7], [8], [9])

Finally, when preparing for the conversation, role-playing can be a valuable tool. It allows you to simulate the emotional state you might experience and better manage your feelings during the actual interaction. A "reverse role-play" can also offer insight into how your position might be perceived by the other party. (Excerpt [10])

In all interactions, be mindful to balance emotional regulation with emotional expression, ensuring that your message is clear and empathetic without being overwhelmed by your own feelings. (Excerpts [7], [8], [9])

Overall, delivering hard news is indeed hard, but with a structured approach that combines transparency, explanation, and collaborative planning, along with emotional intelligence and support, you can navigate these difficult conversations more effectively.