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“Can We Talk?” Four Tips for Delivering Bad News

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3. Explain yourself (but not too much). It’s important to make sure that the other party understands your bad news message and doesn’t walk away with the wrong impression. For instance: “We have to let you go because we’re bringing on someone with a different skill set.” “We’re switching vendors because we need different service schedules.” “I think we should stop seeing each other because we’re both miserable.”

“As in these examples, strive to state your core message and explanation—the reason behind the message—in one sentence,” instructs Tumlin. “You can repeat variants of your message and explanation if you want to say more, but don’t add new information or you may encourage a drift away from your core message.”

4. Get out. (Of the conversation, that is.) If you’ve communicated your core message, and the other person understands, it’s probably acceptable to start thinking about an exit. Naturally, you should address any obvious questions (like “Do we keep making deliveries this week?” “When’s my last day?” “Who keeps the cat?”), but be wary of answering too many speculative or probing questions.

“In this type of conversation, your core message pretty much speaks for itself, and a great deal of unnecessary damage is often done when you overstay a difficult conversation,” comments Tumlin. “You might end up giving up ground you hadn’t intended to, talking about topics that are better left unaddressed, or escalating the conversation to the point of hostility.”

“When it’s time to deliver bad news, don’t get pushed off of your core message,” concludes Tumlin. “It’s a simple formula: Be clear, be concise, and be gone.”

 

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