Breaking Bad: How to Give Bad News With Class and Confidence

image: IMAXtree

image: IMAXtree

There probably isn't one person reading this who will disagree that bad news flat out sucks. If you're someone who's been on both the receiving and relaying end, you might even say that giving bad news is worse than getting it. As the bad news giver, you can have feelings of guilt and anxiety before and after the act. You'll be concerned how the person will take it and how it will affect their life. You'll pity your party and wish that things were different for them. Is there a way to sidestep these feelings? With the right attitude and some confidence that you did the deed the best way you could, it is possible to lessen the internal drama of communicating less than optimistic information. Check out what some experts have said on how to give bad news with class and confidence.

Don't Delay

Robert Bies, a professor of management at Georgetown University, told Forbes that people often sit tight with bad news hoping things will magically improve or get better. But let's be real, how often do you know of that happening? According to Bies, realistically bad situations often get worse the longer they get buried without acknowledgement. Don't let things go from bad to worse. As soon as an issue pops up, say something. Read on to find out how.

Give All the Facts (and Don't Be Afraid to Justify)

Giving bad news is not the time to be on any kind of high horse. Skip phrases or thoughts like, "I don't owe you an explanation, I do what I want!" Or worse, "You don't know me!" So many of us walk into an uncomfortable situation with our defenses on high alert, and it's wrong. So what you need to do in order to be proud of how you handled the situation is to take the high road and explain all the details you know of that led up to this point. Absolutely avoid statements about how you're feeling (as in, "Believe me, I don't like this any more than you."), it's not classy and can stir up later resentment. If you think it will help you feel calm, write a mock script ahead of time and practice it in the mirror. 

Spin Doctor

Another common way we tend to bungle these situations is by thinking "just the facts" means we have to forgo empathy, sympathy or offering an alternate view with a silver lining. In other words, it's okay so spin this one, so long as your ideas are honest. Offer solutions or alternative paths. Avoid mentioning yourself — "If I were you…" sounds like a lecture and this moment isn't about you, it's about the bad news and its victim. 

Have a Sit Down

Doctor Robert Buckman is a Cancer Specialist with a side gig teaching top execs at big companies how to break bad news. According to him, the old cliche phrase, "Let's have a seat," is still necessary. Fainting at bad news may not be common, but it does happen in real life. If you're sitting, injury is less likely in case of passing out. Physical reactions like running out of the room, or taking a swing, are also mitigated if the subject is sitting. Sitting face to face can also lessen the blow as it allows for you to look your subject in the eye and come off as genuinely as you feel. 

Follow Up and Through

If you're seriously concerned about the person you had to let go, show the door, back out from a project you'd planned on, or any of the other wide range of bad news options, put a follow up email or call in your planner. If that person is out of your life for the time being, it's easy to get caught back up in your own life. Show you care by asking how they're doing. If you offered your help on their next move, help them out!

Keep Calm and Carry On

I can't avoid the bad news that sometimes — no matter how hard you try — the messenger gets shot (figuratively, of course). Emotions in the moment can cause rifts in friendships or between colleagues or family members. It's important you allow yourself to stay calm, and even if insults are thrown your way or a person can't seem to see out of that moment, this too shall pass. If you've followed these tips and truly done your best, you've got nothing to worry about. Or at least less than you did before you read this article.