No matter where you are on the money totem pole, you are going to deliver bad financial news to somebody sooner or later. You’re either going to convey a negative update or make a decision that somebody else isn’t going to like. It’s no fun. It’s uncomfortable. But if you have to do it, how do you get this done as painlessly as possible?
1. Embrace the Pain
No matter what you do or say, bad news stings. There is no way you can tell someone the truth about something negative and expect them to be happy about it. It’s better to accept this rather than try to kid yourself of somebody else. Don’t try to sugarcoat the situation. People aren’t stupid. They will see right through your attempts to spin the truth and it will make the situation more difficult.
2. Communicate Clearly And Succinctly
Start off with the bad news and get it over with. If you are quitting your job, tell your boss straight away. If you are going to fire someone tell them in your first sentence. You are better off being very direct because most people can sense when something is going on. When you acknowledge the harsh reality up front at least the other party doesn’t have to waste any extra time in excruciating anticipation.
Note: One great way to deliver important yet not so positive news is to allow the other person to discover the information by themselves. My pal J Money created a very cool retirement spreadsheet that helps you see exactly where your financial ship is headed. If your spouse is rowing in the wrong direction, have him or her take a look at this document. It just may be enough to get them to stop paddling towards the waterfall.
3. Think About The Other Person
If you have to tell someone something they aren’t going to like, they have their own pain to deal with. It doesn’t make it any easier for them if you are uncomfortable and they don’t care about your feelings anyway. Don’t bother them with your problems. Instead, acknowledge how difficult it must be for them and stay focused on the other party.
4. If You Can Help Tell Them How
If you can rectify the situation, this is the time to share. If you can’t fully solve the problem but can make a bad situation better, let the other person know. Again, don’t exaggerate or sugarcoat. A loss is a loss and by acknowledging that you show respect. But if you are able to provide even a partial solution, start talking about what you’re going to do.
5. Provide Options
Once you’ve dealt the harsh cards, focused on the other person and explained how you are going to help, provide options (if there are any). Don’t lay a problem in someone else’s lap and disappear. They might be taken by surprise and feel lost and abandoned. Provide the best options you can think of and ask for the other person’s input.
An Example of How To Deliver Bad News – Quitting Your Job
Let’s say you run your boss’s business but you’ve decided to move on to greener pastures. You know this move is going to put a major crimp in the business. It will take time to find and train your replacement and the firm could lose business in the interim. Let’s refer back to the 5 steps above to see how to deliver.
The First Step- Accept the fact that your decision is going to hurt someone else.
This doesn’t mean you can’t make the decision. You certainly have the right to make this move. But in order to deal with the situation appropriately it’s important that you approach the situation from a mature and realistic standpoint.
The Second Step – Communicate clearly and directly.
“Boss, I realize this may come as a shock to you, but I’ve decided to quit.” You can follow this statement by sharing how much you appreciate the opportunity and support you’ve enjoyed while working at this company (if it’s true) but get this over with quickly so you can move on to the next step.
The Third Step – Focus on the other person rather than yourself.
To manifest this step, acknowledge how the other person might feel and the fears they might be dealing with. Again, don’t dwell on this either. You need to get to the next point as quickly as possible. A quick statement about how they might be worried about continuity, the cost and time it might take to find a replacement and the potential loss of business.
The Forth Step – Tell Them How You Might Help
In our example, let your boss know:
- How you’ll help find a replacement.
- How you’ll help train the person.
- How you’ll speak to customers to help with retention.
Once you’ve shared your own ideas, ask your boss what he or she would like you to do in order to help. As long as she doesn’t ask you to break your boundaries (like staying on longer than you want to) do your best to accommodate them.
The Fifth Step – Provide Options
Using this example, you would provide options for your boss and ask her to decide which is best. So, given the ways you can help; ask your boss what she’d like you to do now. But it’s important to ask this within the framework of options you are comfortable with. Don’t make this an open-ended question.
The bottom line is to treat others like you want to be treated. Be honest and direct. And try to help as much as you can.
Despite your best efforts, the other party might feel so injured (and self-centered) that they will be unable to show appreciation for your efforts. That’s OK. At the end of the day, you are taking these steps because it’s the kind of person you are – not because you need others to acknowledge it.