The Cauldron of Crisis How to Deliver and Receive bad news.

The Covid19 Crisis has brought times of uncertainty and change. Certainty, a feeling of control, represents everything we feel is important.  We’re taught to plan for the future and to take control.  Uncertainty represents a loss of control.  Change may appear daunting and at times even heart-stopping.  

Sometimes we have to share bad news.  It can feel daunting, very un ‘us’ to share it.  We’re social creatures.  We prefer to be the ones to offer a meal or a box of chocolates and tell others we miss them so sharing negative news even in a professional capacity can be difficult.  There are ways to make it better, however.

Delivering Bad News 

When sharing bad news don’t delay.  Rumours and imagination run rife during stressful times.  People will gossip and speculate.  Setbacks begin to feel monstrous.  Share bad news quickly.  As long as people know where they stand, they can make plans to respond.

Own the news.  Sharing bad news makes us feel so medieval, so defensive.  “Don’t shoot the messenger!”  We say.  “I didn’t make the decision.”  In the end, it doesn’t matter.  Bad news is shocking.  Nobody wants to hear it.  Owning the news enables the other person to respond.  “Unfortunately we have to let you go” makes it about the person you’re talking to.  

Share the news face to face.  This is always awkward.  It is much easier to share bad news through an email or message.  Sharing bad news is a test of character.  Nobody wants to do it.  By giving your full attention to the person on the receiving end, you show your humanity.  Put your phone away.  Make eye contact.  

Share all the facts you have access to.  When given bad news, most people want to know everything and the truth.  This helps employees to make sense of the news quickly.  Misleading facts may give false hope.  This reduces your recipient’s ability to respond. 

Create time for the conversation.  Show that you care.  You’re sharing news which may introduce fear, shock or even anger.  By creating space for the other person, you show that you care.  

Prepare for a variety of emotions.  You may see the shiver of fear, despair, sadness or anger.  Some people may show stoicism, convinced all will be okay.  Others may believe their world is ending.  Allow space for all feelings to emerge.  

Listen to your recipient and share as honestly as you can.  Listening enables the recipient of bad news to process how s/he feels and speak through the crisis.  Answer any questions as honestly and directly as you can.  This will help to create solid ground and map out a different future.  

Be respectful.  No matter how badly a person may handle crisis, respect will add a layer of value and humanity which will reduce the shock.

Don’t give fake hope.  It may feel tempting to give a person floundering through crisis something to grasp hold of.  Presenting illusions or miracles won’t help a person to map out a new future though.  It is the man who stops at the mirage in the desert who dies of thirst.

Offer up a follow up meeting.  A person may have new questions to ask once the shock has worn off.  New thoughts or emotions may need processing.  By offering time for these, you show you care.  Bad news may be terrible but it doesn’t have to be inhumane.

Receiving Bad News

Receiving bad news is never easy.  It can be shocking.  Suddenly the future you envisioned for yourself might appear to vanish in an instant and the path you’d mapped out may need to change.  This can feel shocking.  You can’t control bad news.  You can control how you respond.  Here are some tips to work your way through crisis.

Listen and ask questions.  By staying rational you’ll be able to make sense of the crisis.  If you feel angry or aggressive, try to postpone the meeting to another day.  Although all feelings are valid, you don’t want to burn any bridges.  

Give yourself time.  Quick and emotionally laden decisions will often be motivated by panic.  Give yourself the time you need to process how you feel.  Once the shock has worn off, you’ll be able to  find clarity for yourself.

Don’t give into denial.  Pretending a problem doesn’t exist won’t make it go away.  Try to find out what you need to get out of your current situation.  Perhaps you need to speak to a friend for support?  Perhaps it would help to contact your bank.  Small actions enable you to make changes.  From updating your CV to networking, every small act is a step in the right direction.

Fear can leave you feeling frozen.  Imagination can be your own biggest enemy.  Sometimes the fear of what could go wrong may narrow your perspective.  Instead of fighting fear and letting anxiety overwhelm you, make space for your fears.  Go with the flow.  If you lose your car, what could you do?  Perhaps you could use an Uber or join a lift club.  Shopping online and arranging home deliveries may help you.  Going into your fears instead of resisting them will allow your creativity to shine through.

Accept assistance.  Letting go and acknowledging what you need will help you make it through crisis.  The feeling that you have to be in control is isolating.  Instead, draw on your connections.  Crisis creates vulnerability.  Draw on those who express empathy and reach out in connection.  As you learn to look at your own situation with empathy, you will increase your empathy for others too.  Crisis can be a time of growth and connection.  

Remember that nobody can ever control each and every aspect of life.  Crisis is never easy.  Treat yourself gently and allow yourself to adjust.  That terrible experience which felt like the end of the world may just open new doors you’ll love one day.  Give yourself the kindness and compassion you need to recover.  You may not control every event which happens to you but you can control your ability to respond.  Allow yourself to explore new paths and see where life takes you.  New doors often open as a result of a crisis and with it a keener sense of priorities and focus.

This is blog post is an extraction from the Hard Conversations module from my etiquette workshop. This topic can be delivered in full online or live to your teams, along with other business etiquette training. Contact me for full details.