Delivering Bad News: Tips for Mastering this Skill and Enhancing Your Credibility

Delivering Bad News: Tips for Mastering this Skill and Enhancing Your Credibility

None of us likes to be the bearer of bad news. However, as a risk or compliance leader this can be a common and necessary occurrence. Indeed, our organizations rely on us to let them know about the bad things that have gone, or could, go wrong. Delivering bad news is, is a key skill that all assurance leaders must cultivate. Here are some tips for doing so successfully.

Into each life some rain must fall; some days must be dark and dreary. 
~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Anticipate questions—and emotion.

Bad or unexpected news will, understandably, raise questions about the news itself or your recommendations on how to address the news. The news may challenge long held beliefs, underlying assumptions or deeply entrenched plans for the direction of the organization. The news may also trigger feelings of loss, anger or fear. You should expect—and plan--for this.

Think about what questions your leader may have regarding the information and be prepared to answer them. Your goal is to demonstrate that you have been thoughtful, and you understand what the news means for the organization. Preparing for questions also demonstrates that you are thinking like a leader.  

It is ok to acknowledge the emotion underlying the leaders’ response. In fact, I’d recommend doing so. Simply stating “I understand why you believe this is unfair” or “I understand that you may be surprised by what’s happened” demonstrates your empathy. This empathy can go a long way in solidifying your relationship with the leader and their acceptance of the necessary next steps.  

Be direct. Explain the facts, explain the why.

The best way to deliver bad news is directly. Be very clear about the facts. Focusing on the facts can help defuse emotions or the mitigate impression that you are making a value judgement. Focusing on the facts will also reduce the probability that your message is confused. Management needs a clear view of the current situation in order to understand the significance of the information you are sharing and to be inspired to take action to address it. Give the facts in a manner that does not sugarcoat them or make them ambiguous. Also, as much as you can, explain the rationale for what has happened and the reasoning behind your recommendations. Doing so enhances the recipient’s understanding of your message.

Check for understanding.

Nothing is worse than believing you have delivered one message and knowing your audience has received another. So ,it is important to ask what questions the leader may have. You may also ask that they restate in your own words what they heard so that you can make sure you were clear.

Be positive and be prepared to provide a way forward.  

 For every problem, there is a solution and leaders expect their teams to bring forth solutions. As a part of your preparation for the discussion, make sure you have a recommendation which takes into account the relevant stakeholders, risks and preferred outcomes for your organization. Depending upon the issue, no solution is going to be perfect. Your goal is to come up with the best option for the organization and to explain why it is the best option. In some cases, the solution might simply be an action plan for moving forward or bringing others to the table to manage the issue.  

Bad news is a fact of life. However, it does not have to be a painful experience and can be an opportunity to build your credibility and enhance your relationship with leaders in your organization. For these reasons, the ability to deliver unwelcome news in a transparent, direct, empathetic and solution focused manner is a skill well worth cultivating.