If this was five months ago I would say delivering bad news remotely is unacceptable. But things have changed.
As remote offices and virtual events become the new norm, it is inevitable that we will have to navigate sharing bad news through virtual means. Whether it be financial strain, company overhauls or eliminating someone’s position, sharing this information in a professional, empathetic manner is more important than ever.
This is personal.
No matter the objectivity around your decisions, bad news will be taken personally. Emotions are high, especially when there is so much fear in the world. The economy is in a recession, there is a world-wide pandemic spreading, children’s education has been halted, and so much more. With the overwhelming amount of information circulating, be mindful that receiving bad information may be an even bigger hurdle for the recipient than you might have thought a few months ago.
As uncomfortable as it may be to share bad news, it should be done as intimately as possible. It may be convenient to release mass information over email, but having conversations as privately as possible shows you are respectful and care for others’ comfort. Sensitivity could mean the difference between a lasting relationship and burning bridges.
Now that we understand the importance of delivering this news professionally, how does one actually go through with it?
A picture is worth a thousand words
This means being visually communicative, so a phone call will just not do. Visual communication platforms such as Skype, Zoom or FaceTime are great tools to use when relaying bad news. Having the ability to see facial expressions or gestures reduces the likelihood of miscommunication with participants of the meeting, and it gives you and the recipient a way to more clearly understand how each of you are feeling.
Be direct and to the point.
Relaying and receiving bad news are emotional experiences. Having prepared in advance will allow you to relay concise and objective information without getting distracted or skipping over details. While many relationships have been formed from the confines of an office space, or through collaborating on projects, the last thing you want to do is beat around the bush for the sake of lessening the blow.
Start off by explaining the purpose of your meeting: sharing bad news. Once you’ve given ample time to prepare for the revelation, begin explaining your news using short yet thorough statements. Leaving the emotion out of the relaying process makes continuing to have a good relationship in the future easier.
Don’t linger in emotion.
Recipients will have strong feelings and will take this news personally. Emotions run exceptionally high in scenarios like these. They may cry or get angry, be confused or even shut down when hearing what you have to say. This is okay. While you should allow for the expression of feelings, no good will come of wallowing in it together.
Stick to the facts, then respectfully and professionally end your conversation as soon as appropriate.
Keep in mind: This is only temporary.
As unprecedented as these times are, we can relax with the knowledge that this will not last forever. There will come a time when we can meet face-to-face again and sharing bad news will no longer have to be through a screen. But until that time, this is the new norm, and by using the steps above, you can navigate this situation brilliantly.
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