It’s Not What You Say. It’s How You Say it.

It’s 9:45 pm.  I’m working the 3 pm to 11 pm shift at the front desk.  There are still five confirmed reservations scheduled to arrive and we are completely sold out.  Calls to nearby hotels have been made.  We know which hotels still have rooms available if and when the five reservations show up.

I am desperately hoping for one of three things

1.  The last five reservations simply won’t show up.

2.  If they do show up, they will arrive AFTER I’ve clocked out for the day, or

3.  If they do show up, it will be when I am on the phone assisting an in-house guest and my co-worker will have to deliver the bad news.

Delivering bad news to a customer, a co-worker or an employee is never fun.  The bad news can be as seemingly simple as “We don’t have that available in your size” to “I have no rooms available” to “There is no longer a job here for you.”

Recently, I came across a statement that went like this:  “90% of the time, conflict is escalated because of how the message is delivered, not by the message itself.”

I think there are a number of reasons bad news messaging is delivered poorly so often.

We are uncomfortable doing it so try to get it done with as quickly as possible.

This isn’t about putting off sharing the bad news; it’s about shutting the conversation down as soon as the deed is done.

When delivering bad news, it’s important to allow the person hearing it a chance to respond and to ask questions.   Some of the initial responses may not be pleasant.  Take a deep breath and focus on the emotion, frustration, anger or disappointment, rather than the words.

We don’t understand what the big deal is.

In the grand scheme of things, sometimes the bad news we are delivering seems pretty trivial.  And perhaps, in the grand scheme of things, it is pretty trivial, but to the person in front of us, it’s not.

We cannot see into the lives of our customers or our co-workers. Not knowing their stories as well as we know our own, means we don’t understand why they are so frustrated, angry or upset.  Just because we don’t understand the why doesn’t mean we can brush off their response with a shrug and “get over it” attitude.

We focus on explanation or solution, instead of empathy.

We may know why something happened and we may know exactly what we can do to fix it (or at least have an alternate plan in place).  So we rush to fix without offering an apology or acknowledging the impact our bad news had.

Being told that an alternate hotel has a bed does answer the immediate question “Where will I sleep?”  It does not acknowledge the disappointment of having to get back into the car or another taxi, instead of crawling into bed after a long day of travel.  It does not acknowledge the potential inconvenience of having to come back in the morning for meetings, instead of simply taking the elevator down.

At some point, we will all have to deliver bad news to somebody.  It may be a customer, a co-worker or an employee.  While we can’t change the message itself, we can help cushion the blow and reduce the chance of escalated conflict by not rushing through it and by acknowledging their pain, frustration, anger or disappointment before jumping in with ideas on how to make it better.

What do you think? What else needs to be considered when delivering bad news?

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