Whether you’re part of a team of two or twenty people, at some point you’ll have to deliver bad news. Maybe you’re a manager who has to talk to your employees about upcoming layoffs or you’re a consultant who has to tell a client the project is behind schedule. These types of conversations are uncomfortable and downright awkward — especially if you don’t agree with the decision. The harsh reality is it’s an unfortunate cost of doing business.
Let’s say you’re a VP of a company with a team of 15 people. You have to deliver bad news to a client about a project delay. While you believe your team had enough time to meet the deadline, someone made a mistake and failed to process the order. You want to try using a new supplier to expedite the process, but your CEO prefers to use the same supplier so you don’t risk quality.
Before you communicate the news to the client, here are five steps to consider:
1. Avoid Miscommunication
Though the decision to extend the deadline might be what’s best for business, how you go about dealing with customers are part of your brand reputation.
Your reputation is your true wealth. Considering things like time, place, and method of communication can help you avoid a worst-case scenario. While texting and using instant messaging platforms like Slack are replacing face-to-face communication, it’s also one of the worst ways to deliver bad news.
Besides most of us have been part of an email or text message where words were misconstrued and things could’ve been handled differently. Using text or email to communicate bad news may unintentionally send the message that the person isn’t worth your time. Bottom line, when it comes to delivering bad news, either call the person or schedule a face-to-face meeting.
2. Own it
Blaming others, giving vague responses or one-two word replies are other poor communication tactics to avoid. When sharing bad news with a client, blaming others may send the signal that you don’t know how to handle business. Your job is to communicate in a way that the client feels you’re on top of things.
Take time to prepare. Think about what has happened and what’s going to happen next. If applicable, can you offer something of value to minimize frustration and maintain the client relationship?
3. Tap Into Your Emotional Intelligence
Put yourself in the other person’s shoes so you can see things from their perspective. Consider the range of emotions they might go through as they’re processing the news. Then anticipate every question a client might have.
Get feedback. You may not be able to control how a person responds to you, but you can control how you communicate and react to their emotions. Asking for feedback can help you eliminate any insensitive phrases (e.g., As I said before. This is a waste of time. Just relax) from your responses.
4. Communicate As Early As Possible
There’s nothing worse than learning about a project delay the day before the due date.
Get to the point and be precise. Rather than pointing the blame at people, focus more on the situation, next steps or solution. Here are two ways to approach this:
- Explain the situation and one-two factors that went into making the decision.
- Explain the problem and how you will solve it.
5. Use Positive Words
Stay away from phrases like, “I should have done X or I wish we would’ve done Y.” Positive words move a conversation from problem to solution. Instead, lead with an empathetic statement: “I can only imagine how frustrated you are right now. I appreciate your business. I’m prepared to make this right by…”
Be clear when you’re talking about the next steps. Also, be sure to end with a positive statement to leave them with a good impression. This can rebuild trust and reset their expectations.
- Thanks for your patience and understanding.
- Call me directly with any follow-up questions.
- I will email you directly when we overnight your order.