Trish needed to break news her clients didn’t want to hear. She wondered how to make the process easier.

Although Trish was an auditor, her question was one many professionals ask. Doctors, lawyers and Human Resources practitioners are just three examples of people who regularly need to deliver unpopular messages. Does your work involve breaking bad news or giving critical feedback? Then you’ll be interested in the advice we gave Trish’s team in their custom-designed training program.

If there’s a solution, bring it up front

When you’re raising a problem which has a simple solution, let the other person know this before you point out what’s wrong. Otherwise you’ll trigger a stress reaction for no reason. For example, I once visited my accountant to sign off on a tax return. She started the conversation by announcing “You owe $15,000 on your personal tax.”

As my blood pressure shot through the roof, the accountant explained that this was because I’d paid the tax into the wrong account. The problem would be solved by a simple transfer. So why hadn’t she started with that news? I changed accountants that year.

Agree where you can

Many people react aggressively to bad news or unexpected feedback. This often leads to them arguing or reacting aggressively. Don’t let this phase you. Instead, focus on getting the conversation back on track. Look for opportunities to agree. For example, you might not be able to make the changes a stakeholder desires. But you can build a collaborative relationship by saying:

  • I agree we need to resolve this situation
  • I respect that you want the best for your stakeholders
  • I agree that your stakeholders are important. And we also need to consider…

Provide choices, not rules

Most people dislike being told what to do. And some people become defensive when they feel they have no control over the situation they’re in. You can minimise resistance or defensiveness by offering people choices. For example, try saying:

  • To resolve this issue, there are three courses of action you can take
  • Let’s talk through the options which are available to you
  • Which of these options will work best for you…?

Gang up on the problem together

Sometimes your stakeholders will take your professional judgements personally. This can make them angry or irrational. To prevent this happening, use language which suggests you’re working with them rather than against them. For example:

  • We need to work out a reasonable solution together
  • Let’s explore this and work out what can be done
  • This situation creates a problem for both of us. Let’s work together to solve it, by…

Think training like this would benefit your team? Contact me now to find out how I can help.