Toastmaster — February 2013
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Christina Miranda

5 tips to soften the blow.

As a business leader, are raising your prices? Cutting services? Not giving out staff bonuses this year? Putting an employee on probation?

No one wants to deliver this kind of unwelcome news—or be the recipient of it. But sometimes it’s a necessary evil of doing business, and you’re the unfortunate soul who has to bear the burden. Here are five tips to mitigate the drama:

1Let your own emotions run their course before sharing the news with others. You may not like or agree with the news you must deliver, but there is a reason it needs to be done. Come to terms with it so you don’t bring your negative emotional energy to the communication. Your audience will take its cue from your approach, and if you’re defensive, nervous, weepy or angry, it will only fuel a negative response.

2Restrict your buildup and get to the point. By the time people get through six long paragraphs of posturing and pussyfooting in your email or press release, they are on high alert, and filled with negative emotion. So when you finally hit them with the unpleasant punch line in that last paragraph, their adverse reaction is intensified by the emotions you already nurtured in them. The same thing holds true for verbal delivery. Often, the anticipation is worse than the actual news.

3Consider the timing carefully. Procrastinating often makes it worse (especially if rumors about the announcement are circulating), but rushing to break the news just because you want to put it behind you comes with great risk. A knee-jerk communication is usually delivered with clouded judgment, high emotion and a lack of due diligence. Most importantly, consider when this news will best be received. Bad news is never welcome, but before you decide on the ideal time, consider factors such as time, day and your audience’s state of mind.

4Avoid misdirection and trickery. It’s tempting to load up bad-news communication with a bunch of good news in the hopes of distracting your audience. However, it will only damage your listeners’ trust in you. You may choose this path because doing so will make you feel better (“See? I’m not that bad—look at all the good things I’m still sharing.”), but to the news recipient, it just looks wishy-washy and weak. And in many cases, it can give the appearance of trivializing serious news and not treating it with the respect it deserves.

5Remember that nothing is confidential. Emails can be forwarded, and social media is designed to be the world’s fastest grapevine. Whatever you do—whatever you say—before you “go there,” answer this question: How would I feel if 50 million people knew about this tomorrow? Nothing tames you into acting gracefully like the thought of being vilified by an outraged public. United Airlines (among other companies) learned this lesson the hard way.

Above all, you must remember that no matter how you spin it or when you say it, your audience won’t like it. That’s why it’s called “bad news.” It would be irrational for you to tell your customers you’re raising prices and have them respond with “No worries, we don’t mind.” So be realistic. If you expect to deliver bad news and have people walk away happy, this will not work out well for you.

And that brings us to the last point: Delivering bad news is not about you. The recipient does not want to hear about how you were up all night bellyaching over delivering this news or that it gives you no pleasure to do this. Asking for their empathy at a time like this will likely result in their wanting to smack you. Let them have their moment of sadness without trying to steal some sympathy.