‘Can we talk?’ Four tips for delivering bad news

Try this simple formula to help you conduct life’s difficult conversations.

Bad news is no fun to deliver. That’s why even distinguished leaders and otherwise successful people will go to great lengths to avoid doing it. For example, you might tolerate a longstanding, but mediocre, vendor instead of giving the contract to another company. Or maybe you make excuses to hold on to an underperforming employee. And admit it: You’ve almost certainly hung around in a problematic personal relationship (romantic or platonic) longer than you should have.

These delays buy us a reprieve, but they surely don’t improve the situation. In fact, as we hesitate, prevaricate, and beat around the bush, the underlying problem gets worse and the web of complications grows ever more tangled. That’s why Geoffrey Tumlin says we owe it to ourselves to study up on the fine art of delivering bad news.

“If you were hoping for a way around the unpleasant emotions that accompany the delivery of bad news, I’ll have to disappoint you—there isn’t one,” says Tumlin, author of the book Stop Talking, Start Communicating: Counterintuitive Secrets to Success in Business and in Life (McGraw-Hill, August 2013, ISBN: 978-0-0718130-4-4). “But there are some strategies to help you deal with these conversations more promptly and successfully.

“Delivering bad news is an essential skill, even if it won’t win you any popularity contests,” Tumlin asserts. “Dealing with issues promptly and decisively can save you time, energy, and even money—not to mention all the mental anguish you feel while putting off a difficult conversation.”

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