By Fred Kusch  

 “I would forget it fain,
But oh, it presses to my memory,
Like damnèd guilty deeds
to sinners’ minds.
I would be glad to forget about it,
but it weighs on my memory like
sins linger in guilty minds.”
— William Shakespeare

It happens to us all. At one time or another, we must share or give bad news. Whether it’s to your kids, a spouse, parents, friends or people you work with, it’s no fun and most of us shy away from it. If you reflect on it and prepare for it in a caring and, yes, even loving way, you can soften the blow or ease the discomfort. It takes a change of mindset to deliver the less than desirable message. I have learned some techniques that may help you with this difficult task. These tips can assist you in developing the skills necessary to reduce any feelings of trepidation. The lessons you learn will help make an unpleasant task easier and allow you to give and receive respect. 

1. Be Prepared.

Unlike a good scout, we tend to stumble here. Remember the old adage, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Lack of preparation is the mistaken belief that you can make it up as you go along. Our tendency to avoid or put off giving bad news diminishes the person and the message. When the time comes, manage the emotions of the situation and be prepared to deliver the news in the best, most humane and caring manner possible. 

2. Send out “smoke signals.”

Like Native Americans once did, it would benefit both you and the recipient to have some advance warning that bad news is coming. Too often we are like politicians who give lip service to transparency, and we come off as harsh, disingenuous and insensitive—in short, cold and not to be believed. I have found that personal transparency and shared warning signs on sensitive matters help signal the possibility of bad news. Cardinal rule: Bad news should never come as a surprise particularly to those we love or call friends or colleagues. 

3. When in doubt, write it down.

As is often said in times like these, prepare a script so you don’t forget the most important points. Simply stated, be proactive and think of possible outcomes, responses and reactions.

4. Remember, the medium is the message.

You need to determine the appropriate delivery medium of your message. I personally feel the face-to-face, in-person meeting is essential. Always remember, the more important, serious or sensitive the news is, the more face-to-face time is needed. 

5. Practice makes perfect.

When encountering the most challenging task, consider practicing your message, delivery and body language. This should absolutely be done by yourself or with trusted friends or family members. 

6. Say “NO!” to procrastination.

Delaying the inevitable will make it worse. Do not postpone the delivery of bad news. Waiting can be costly, as conditions may continue to worsen. 

7. Be clear, be honest, be direct.

First and foremost, there is no substitute for the truth. Furthermore, be succinct; say it simply, remembering less is more. Promise yourself to conclude the message and dialogue with a positive or hopeful statement. Attempt to find and provide solutions as well as any “silver linings” to soften the impact or perception of negative news. 

8. Don’t hide.

If for no other reason than remembering that people are watching and listening, scrutinize and judge how you convey your message. Be confident and exude self-assurance regarding the decision you made that precipitated the need to deliver bad news. If you can’t do this or you are afraid of what they will ask, you sure as hell shouldn’t have made the decision in the first place. If you are uncertain, I guarantee you will be perceived in a less than desirable light. Remember, perception is 9/10ths of reality. 

Consider any or all of these ideas with a positive mindset and I believe you can more effectively convey the message you want. Remember, you are communicating with human beings. Your ability and character are being tested and are on display. 

“Nothing travels faster than the speed of light with the possible exception of bad news, which obeys its own special laws.”
— Douglas Adams

Fred Kusch, president and CEO of JFK Associates, is a well-known speaker, author, consultant and business coach. For more information, visit jfkassociates.com.