Need to deliver bad news?
When it’s crunch time, you often feel like you’re backed into a corner where there’s only one way forward. It’s like the world is closing in on you….and that is simply because of the pressure of people or time (usually both). This makes decision making and delivering with confidence and impact really hard.
Not only is the process of decision making hard, but also communicating through the course of that process difficult. Because we know that open and timely communication is key, especially during crunch times….but for every decision made there is a range of potential outcomes….and not all are favourable. Have you ever been in that situation?
That sinking feeling
You know the one. When you hit ‘enter’ and a number appears that looks really wrong. When you open the email and someone has told you that deal isn’t going to happen. When you hang up the phone and you realise that sh!t is about to hit the fan.
Your moment of exposure
I remember a particular instance where I realised that a set of financial statements that had been sent to the Audit Committee for review and approval in advance of the Audit Committee meeting included errors. Talk about sinking feeling. I needed to act, and act fast. I needed to (a) alert the CFO that there was an error, (b) figure out the correction needed, so that we could (c) advise the Audit Committee ASAP so they didn’t waste time reviewing incorrect statements. All of those things still make my tummy turn, even as I write this.
Influencing when they don’t want to be influenced
In this situation, there were so many things going through my head. Who or what led to the mistake? How could we resolve the
error quickly, with minimal effort (everyone had already pulled weeks of long hours and fatigue had well and truly set in) but most importantly, get it right so that leadership and the Audit Committee could feel confident with the updated set of financial statements?
Despite the dread and confusion that was going on inside my own head, my role to think clearly and provide certainty where there was now massive ambiguity. I needed to be proactive and focus on the impact of influence.
Here are the 8 steps to delivering bad news in a manner that influences the right outcome:
Context: Context is king and should frame every interaction you have.
Shared purpose: Understand the shared purpose of what you are going to achieve. In this case, we were all trying to prepare accurate financial statements within the deadline (preferably with an unqualified opinion).
Show interest: Seek to identify what went wrong. Be objective and and demonstrate genuine curiosity.
Demonstrate understanding: Identify the conditions that led to the errors. Be factual and be careful that your language doesn’t imply or lay blame.
Compassion: Understand how pervasive those conditions were. Momentarily get in the trenches to help identify how big the issue is.
Expert: Calculate the magnitude of the error and the flow-on implications of that error.
Show empathy: What are the implications of the error for the person you’re speaking with and what, if anything, should you do to reduce the severity of those implications.
Be pragmatic: Provide a resolution to the issue that are not only within the set guidelines, but are sensible and respectful. Explain the steps you’ve taken above so that you can instil confidence where it has been broken.
We will all need to deliver bad news at some stage or another. Make it easier on yourself and have a framework that you can rely on when you need to have those difficult conversations. To take the heat off, so you can communicate clearly and quickly and have the impact you want.
Deliver with impact and make your conversations count….