The few words that are synonymous with impending bad news. Be it a university rejection later or a failed job interview. Chances are, we have all experienced that negative phrase. Think back about how you felt when you first saw that sentence, did your heart sink? The dreaded words that informs us that something bad is about to be made known to us. What is it about those few words that grabs our attention? Is it the fear of bad news that dictates our movements?
Bad news is a feature of life but in terms of actually communicating it, how can we better empathise with our audience? This is especially true in a corporate context. Having difficult conversations is a part of the job. But how can we be more sensitive when doing so? Empathy goes a long way when delivering bad news.
Picture yourself in their shoes, how would you like to be spoken to? Would you like the bearer of bad news to be sensitive in their delivery? I am sure we would all appreciate some courtesy when being spoken to. The best way to go about delivering bad news would be to understand the psychology behind it; examine people's reactions to it and how you can respond to them in a more helpful manner.
Here are some of the most common reactions that people have:
1) Feeling Ambushed
Bad news is usually communicated without prior warning, which leads to the recipient often feeling unprepared and overwhelmed. They tend to not know how to react as they are surprised by the turn of events.
Organizations can try to be as clear and honest as possible with the individual. The one unanimous thing employees hate is to be kept in the dark. You can combat this by letting them in your rationale and thought process. Doing so, allows them to better understand your perspective which is likely to help settle their nerves
Frequent and honest communications are the key when having difficult conversations. Being honest about the problem early on goes a long way in solving them, especially as it may require some time to resolve. An open-line of communication should always be the go to method as there is nothing worse for employees than to hear company news from external sources. This signals goodwill as the organization took the time to personally inform.
Bad news should always be delivered face to face, your staff deserve the basic courtesy of being told bad news in person. They need to hear sincerity, conviction and be looked in the eye. Face to face dialogues should always be the default medium when having difficult conversations rather than a cold, corporate email.
2) Expecting Grief
When someone receives bad news, they will naturally have a negative emotional response. This is usually grief, which could have long-lasting effects and lead to anxiety or even depression.
It is important for organizations to recognise the emotional response that their employees are likely to have. Understanding this will allow you to prepare to speak to them in a helpful way. When they are grieving, they are likely to blame others or themselves. The utilisation of different communication styles will help to ease their emotions. It is crucial for your staff to understand the importance of wellness and support structures at this time. Organizations could also provide access to such resources like an in house counsellor.
The ideal is to get them to the final stage of grief which is acceptance. This refers to a state of mind where they are accepting of their situation and is ready to move on. The achieving of this stage is only possible through efficient communication from the organization. Acceptance may be harder to come back, especially if the news was particularly drastic and is dependent on the individual's resilience.
3) Craving Reassurance
One is likely to feel vulnerable after receiving bad news, which creates a need for reassurance. Humans crave social support especially in times of need, none more so than from their fellow colleagues. They need to be told that they are doing a good job, that their job is safe and that people like them. Positive feedback is what they require as they are likely to be doubting their capabilities.
Job security is understandably their primary concern and organizations should recognise the need to reassure their employees of this. Having an open and honest conversation about this would greatly help to ease tensions. Discussing what the individual can do to improve on their work is a great start. They will have a sense of what they need to and the onus is on them to implement it. If they fail to do so, they will only have themselves to blame.
However, in cases where the worker's job is indeed at risk, organizations still need to maintain their integrity and therefore should not lie to their staff. If their job is at risk, they should not tell them a white lie. Honesty is the best policy and telling a white lie will just lead the individual to feeling like they have been deceived.
Encourage them to share their personal feelings with you. Understanding their cares and concerns provides you with the opportunity to reassure them. This strengthens the personal connection and makes the employee feel like you genuinely care about their well-being.
Understanding human behaviour is key to successful communication. When negative news must be delivered, this allows us to do so in the most appropriate, sensitive and effective way—making the best of bad news.
When you are kind to someone in trouble, you hope that they'll remember and be kind to someone else. And it'll become like a wildfire. -Whoopi Goldberg