Here, more than at any other time, your organizational format is critical so that people will be able to “hear” your message the way you intend. Below is the format for Delivering Bad News. This format works for the written follow-up as well.
Set the stage
State the bad news
Give the rationale and consequences
Look to the future
1. Set the stage. Give whatever background is necessary for other people to receive the news in context. This should be brief, mostly because they will stop listening if it isn’t. There may be times when there is no need to give any background at all because they are all well aware of what is happening. Set the stage using phrases like, “In light of the new ...” or “As you all know, we have had consultants helping us define our goals as an organization, which are to ...”
2. State the bad news. The most important part here is to state the news directly. Hedging makes you come across as unsure of yourself; it negatively impacts your credibility. Don’t withhold the critical information. State the bad news up front in the presentation. Don’t build up to it.
3. Give the rationale. After you tell them what happened, the listeners will immediately want to know why. Give the rationale behind the bad news. The listeners will then want to know what the message means to them. State the consequences of the bad news.
4. Empathize. Throughout your message you need to express a supportive concern for the emotional impact of this situation. Empathy will also be demonstrated through the tone you use to deliver your message. Additionally, after you give the rationale and consequences, there needs to be verbal recognition on your part that you know this is hard for them. That’s empathy.
5. Look to the future. Here the conversation turns an important corner. Now you’re looking toward the future in a more positive light. That may mean suggesting actions that will preclude a replay of the bad news just delivered.
6. Answer questions and concerns. This is where much of your credibility will get developed. Anticipate questions your audience might ask. Develop answers ahead of time. Your preparation will signal to the listeners that you’ve done your homework and have given thorough consideration to their situation.
During events like this, there are often questions that don’t have answers yet. Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know,” and then give them a time when you can get the answers to them. Make sure you demonstrate that you are making note of those questions, so they believe you when you say that you will follow up. (See Chapter 5, How to Handle Audience Pressure.)