Pause, and remember the big picture.
Take a deep breath. Bad news does not have to ruin your career or reputation if you handle it properly. Hit pause before you haphazardly handle the bad news.
While you should take a moment to collect your thoughts, don’t delay in sharing bad news. The situation could worsen, and you want to avoid having to explain why you did not bring the issue to the attention of your colleagues or manager sooner. Leaders are the bearers of good and bad news. It is part of the job description.
Consider the reaction of your audience.
Cater your delivery of bad news to the particular person with whom you are speaking. Communicating with a hotheaded boss will be a different experience than communicating with an even-keeled manager. Think about whom you must share the bad news and how they have responded to prior instances so that you communicate accordingly. Interacting with volatile personalities, for example, requires mental preparation to not buy into the antics or respond in kind and to keep your cool.
Also, think about what the person currently has on their plate and their priorities. You might upset your manager if you try to share bad news when she is trying to focus on something. If your manager is distracted by three other projects that are going well, your news may not land as bad as you might think. Consider the context and timing.
Reference and compare.
Sometimes, it can be beneficial to refer to or compare your situation with another situation. If a similar situation in which you were involved ultimately turned out well, it can soften the blow and provide some perspective.
Don’t point fingers.
If you think bad news makes you look bad, blaming it on others will make you look worse. Leaders do not point fingers at others. When you blame others, you give up your power to seize the opportunity and improve the situation.
Propose a new idea.
Be ready to sell an idea. Let’s say you are having difficulty getting your project idea off the ground because you lack sufficient manpower. When you share this with your manager, have a solution in mind. You might know how to automate some of the work, recruit volunteers, give employees from another department the opportunity for a secondment or figure out how to reduce the scope of the project and achieve the same goal. Bad news requires problem-solving, and successful people are always ready with a solution.
Reflect on what you learned, and move on.
Your manager and colleagues will look to see what you learned from the experience to minimize the potential for it happening again. If you launched an expensive product that did not work, maybe you should have done more market research.
Ask yourself what happened and why you think it happened. Be honest with yourself. Show and reassure others that you are self-aware and have learned a valuable lesson. Albert Einstein is known to have said, “The only mistake in life is the lesson not learned.”
Share lessons learned.
Use this opportunity to take what you learned and share it with others. Ask your manager if you can develop a workshop or schedule a brown bag lunch. Take your colleagues through the issue you experienced, how you handled it and what you wished you had done differently. Share key takeaways to prevent others from doing the same thing. This is your opportunity to turn a negative into positive value for your organization.
Stomach-churning circumstances like bad news are part of life. What is important is how you handle bad news. The next time you have bad news and are worried about saying something, use these tips to leverage the opportunity to look like a leader and advance your career.