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Communicating Well Under Pressure

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Deliver bad news with honesty and empathy.

Jack's boss has just told him that, due to budget cuts, several people in his team will have to go. Jack manages a happy, successful, team, and he has no idea how to deliver this bad news.

It's possible that you've experienced a similar situation, or will have to face one like it in the future. By learning how to deliver bad news honestly, openly, and empathetically, you can help to preserve your working relationships, rather than damage them.

In this article, we'll look at the best approaches to use when delivering a difficult message.

The Art of Delivery

Delivering bad news is something that we all have to do at some point. For example, you may need to tell your boss that a major project is over budget, you might have to tell your team about lay-offs, or you may even have to go on camera to say that your product has safety issues.

There are many reasons why you might need to deliver bad news, which is why it's important to know how to deliver it honestly, empathetically, and gracefully.

After all, the way you communicate bad news can have a direct impact on how the receiver perceives and reacts to the situation, and the way that you communicate in this difficult situation is likely be remembered – either positively or negatively – for a long time.

Lessons From the Medical Field

Much of the research on delivering bad news comes from medicine. It's so important, in this context, that the American Medical Association first included it in its code of conduct as far back as 1847.

Physicians and trauma surgeons often have to deliver difficult – or even devastating – news to their patients. We can apply some of the strategies that they've adopted to a business environment.

Research in the Journal of Trauma-Injury Infection & Critical Care outlines the qualities which family members value most in doctors or nurses who communicate bad news. This research shows that – from the receiver's perspective – the four most important factors are (in order of importance):

  1. The news-giver's attitude.
  2. The clarity of the message.
  3. Privacy.
  4. The person's ability to answer questions.

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