How to Communicate Bad News Effectively?

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Communication is the activity of conveying information through the exchange of thoughts, messages, or information, as by speech, visuals, signals, writing, or behavior. Communication requires a sender, a message, and a recipient, although the receiver need not be present or aware of the sender’s intent to communicate at the time of communication; thus communication can occur across vast distances in time and space. Communication requires that the communicating parties share an area of communicative commonality. The communication process is complete once the receiver has understood the message of the sender.

Feedback is critical to effective communication between participants. A business can flourish when all objectives of the organization are achieved effectively. For efficiency in an organization, all the people of the organization must be able to convey their message properly.

Business communication is the process of establishing a common understanding between or among people within a business environment. Business communication is any communication used to build partnerships, intellectual resources, to promote an idea, a product, and service, with the objective of creating value for your business.

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Business communication involves constant flow of information. Business communication here plays a very important role in process of directing and controlling the people in the organization. There should be effective communication between superiors and subordinators in an organization, between organization and society at large it is essential for success and growth of an organization. Communication gaps should not occur in any organization. Business communication is goal oriented. The rules, regulations and policies of a company have to be communicated to people within and outside the organization.

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Business communication is regulated by certain rules and norms. Effective communication helps in building goodwill of an organization.

Importance of business communication to managers

Business managers should be able to communicate in number style. -Communication promotes motivation by informing and clarifying the employees about the task to be done, the manner they are performing the task, and how to improve their performance if it is not up to mark. -Communication is a source of information to the organizational members for decision-making process as it helps in identifying and assessing alternative course of actions. -Communication also plays a crucial role in altering individuals attitudes, i.e. a well-informed individual will have better attitude than a less –informed individual. -Communication also helps in socializing: in today’s life the only presence of another individual fosters communication.

The flow of communication in an organization

The flow of communication in an organization can be in the form of : Downward Communication – flow of information from higher level in an organization to a lower level in an organization. In other words, communication from a superior to subordinates in a chain of command is a downward communication. This communication flow is used by the managers to transmit work related information to the employees at lower levels. Employees require this information for performing their jobs and for meeting the expectations of their managers.

Downward communication is used by managers for providing feedback on employees’ performance, giving job instructions, Communicating the organizations mission and vision to the employees. Upward Communication – flow of information from lower authority to higher authority. It provides feedback on how well the organization is functioning. The subordinates use upward communication to convey their problems and performances to their superiors. The subordinates also use upward communication to tell how well they have understood the downward communication. It can also be used by the employees to share their views and ideas and to participate in the decision making process.

Upward communication leads to a more committed and loyal workforce in an organization because the employees are given a chance to raise and speak dissatisfaction issues to the higher levels. The managers get to know about the employees feelings towards their jobs, peers, supervisors and organization in general. Managers can thus accordingly take actions for improved things. Horizontal Communication – flow of information among peers within the same work unit. This is the communication between peers, between managers at same levels or between any horizontal equivalent organizational members. Cross-Channel Communication – exchange of information among employees in different work units who are neither subordinates nor superior to one another.

Negative /Bad message
Bad message – “…situations where there is either a feeling of no hope, a threat to a person’s mental or physical well-being, a risk of upsetting an established lifestyle, or where a message is given which conveys to an individual fewer choices in his or her life.” Both of the downward and cross channel communication can be related to the concept of relating bad message to an employee.

It can be said that how you communicate that bad message will have a significant impact on your organization and its reputation.
Bad message can be in any form, it can be
i.Termination of appointment
ii.Laying off employees
iii.Failure in an interview
iv.Dealing with bad performance
v.Communicating a bad financial situation
vi.Rejection of a proposal, among others

Communicating bad message is the most difficult information to convey. To those it affects though, it is the most important communication of all. Delivering bad news can be the worst part of the job for any manager. That’s not because the truth, on its face, is difficult to convey. It’s the anxiety of the possibility of handling it poorly and knowing that doing so can worsen the impact on your employees, their productivity, and your whole company.

Any communication can be challenging even when the news being delivered is positive, but when delivered is negative is known as bad message. In business a letter, memo or email that conveys negative or unpleasant information- information that is likely to disappoint, upset, or even anger a reader. Bad messages include rejections (in response to job applications, promotion requests, and the like) negative evaluations, and announcements of policy changes that don’t benefit the reader.

What constitutes bad message

Bad message is a fact of life for all business professionals, from rejecting job applicants to downturn speaking invitations. Bad message means the reader or the person receiving the news will not be able to accomplish his/her goals. Bad message directly can often be very damaging and unnecessarily hurtful.

Goals of communicating bad message
Goals are clearly needed a lot to accomplish in one message. These are some of the goals you can develop negative/bad messages that reduce the stress for everyone involved and improve the effectiveness of your communication efforts. There are two goals in communicating bad news we have the primary and secondary goal.

Primary goals
i. Make the receiver understand the bad news.
ii. Help the receiver accept the bad news.
iii. Maintain a positive image of you and your organization.
Secondary goals
i. Reduce bad feelings
ii. Convey fairness
iii. Eliminate future correspondence
iv. Avoid creating legal liability or responsibility for you or your organization. v. Choose appropriate tone and organization

Using the 3 writing process

Step 1: Plan Your Message
When planning your message, you can’t avoid the fact that your audience does not want to hear what you have to say. To minimize the damage to business relationships and to encourage the acceptance of your message, analyze the situation carefully to better understand the context in which the recipient will process your message. Be sure to consider your purpose thoroughly whether it’s straightforward or of more complicated (such as creating a negative performance review, in which you not only give the employee feedback on past performance but also help the person develop a plan to improve future performance.)

Similarly, your receiver profile can be simple and obvious in some situations and far more complex in others (such as telling a business partner that you’ve decided to terminate the partnership.) With a clear purpose and your audience’s needs in mind, identify and gather the information your audience will need in order to understand and accept your message.

Bad messages can be intensely personal to the recipient, and in many cases recipients have a right to expect a thorough explanation of your answer. Selecting the right medium is critical when delivering bad messages.

For example, you might badly damage a business relationship if you use voice mail to reject a long-time employee’s request for a promotion. Since the employee would surely have some important questions to ask, and you would certainly want to soothe hurt feelings, a face-to-face meeting would be the best choice for this situation.

Step 2: Write Your Message
When conveying a bad message to your colleague, every aspect of effective, diplomatic writing is amplified; after all, the audience does not want to hear a bafd message and might disagree strongly with you. Be sure to maintain the you-attitude, and strive for polite language that emphasizes
the positive whenever appropriate.

If your credibility hasn’t already been established with an audience, lay out your qualifications for making the decision in question. Recipients of bad messages who don’t think you are credible are more likely to challenge your decision. That’s why, for example, messages related to late payments are often signed by a higher executive. And as always, projecting and protecting your company’s image is a prime concern. If you’re not careful, a negative answer could spin out of control into negative feelings about your company. When you use language that conveys respect and avoids an accusing tone, you protect your audience’s pride.

In addition, you can ease the sense of disappointment by using positive words rather than negative ones. Chances are you’ll spend more time on word, sentence, and paragraph choices for negative/bad messages than for any other type of business writing. People who receive bad message often look for subtle shares of meaning, seeking flaws in your reasoning or other ways to challenge the decision. By writing clearly and sensitively, you can take some of the sting out of the bad message and sensitively, you can take some of the sting out of bad news and help your reader to accept your decision and to move on.

Step 3: Complete Your Message
Your need for carefully pay attention to detail continues as you complete your message. Revise your content to make sure everything is clear, complete, and concise – bearing in mind that even small flaws are magnified as listeners react to your negative news. Produce clear, professional documents, and proofread carefully to eliminate mistakes. Finally, be especially sure that your negative messages are delivered promptly and successfully. Waiting for bad message is hard enough without wondering whether a message was lost.

Conveying bad message to a colleague is never a pleasant task but breaking it at the wrong time or in the wrong way can be the worse, so it’s important to know the best approaches to breaking bad news. When writing bad message, you will need to choose the direct or indirect approach; however, there are no clear guidelines to help you choose in every case. Ask yourself the following questions to guide your message: i. Will the bad news come as a shock?

ii. Does the recipient prefer short messages that get right to the point? iii. How important is this news to the recipient?
iv. Do you need to maintain a close working relationship with the recipient? v. Do you need to get the recipient’s attention?
vi. What is your organization’s preferred style?
vii. How much follow-up communication do you want?

Examples of negative phrasings| Positive alternatives|
Your request does not make any sense| Please clarify your request| Due to unforeseen circumstances: I won’t be able to attend your meeting| Because my flight has been delayed I will miss for your meeting.| Unfortunately we haven’t received your payment.| Your payment hasn’t arrived yet.| The enclosed signature is wrong| Please recheck the enclosed signature.| | | |

The direct approach and the indirect approach
Effective bad news messages convey the negative information the receiver must receive with an eye toward keeping future business.

Without even thinking about it, you’ve probably been using both the direct and indirect approaches to deliver bad news your entire life. When you come right out and tell somebody some bad news, you’re using a direct approach. When you try to soften the impact by easing your way into the conversation before delivering the bad news, you’re using an indirect approach. Chances are that you’ve already developed an instinctive feel for which approach to use in many situations.

In conveying your message, you will need to make a similar choice whenever
you deliver bad news; however, there are no clear guidelines to help you choose in every case. Most bad news messages will be better accepted by our listeners if we use the indirect approach. The care we take to soften the blow will result in effective messages that consider the readers’ feelings and keeping their business.

The direct approach
We use the direct message when the receiver
i. Prefers bad news first
ii. Is emotionally uninvolved
iii. Will be unaffected by the bad news

The Indirect Approach for bad Messages
The indirect approach helps recipient prepare for the bad message by presenting the reasons for the bad message first. When done right, it doesn’t obscure bad message, delay it, or limits your responsibility. Rather, the indirect approach eases the blow and help recipient accept the situation. 1. Open with a buffer

A buffer expresses your appreciation for being thought of, assures the reader of your attention to the request, compliments the recipient, or indicates your understanding of the recipient’s needs. A buffer must not insult the audience with insincere flattery or self-promoting blather. Because it sets the stage for the bad news to follow, it must be both sincere and relevant so that readers don’t feel they are being set up.

The first step in using the indirect approach is to start with a buffer, a neutral, non-controversial statement that is closely related to the point of the message. A buffer establishes common ground with your listener; moreover, if you’re responding to a request, a buffer validates that request. Some critics believe that using a buffer is manipulative and unethical, even dishonest. However, buffers are unethical only if they’re insincere or deceptive. Showing consideration for the feelings of others is never dishonest.

Here are several types of effective buffers you could use to tactfully open a bad message. viii. Appreciation (Thank you for applying for a change of duties). ix. Agreement (We both know how hard it is to make a profit in this industry). x. Cooperation

xi. Understanding
xii. Praise
Here are some other things to avoid when using a buffer to open a bad message: xiii. Avoid saying “no.”
xiv. Avoid using a know-it-all tone.
xv. Avoid wordy and irrelevant phrases and sentences.
xvi. Avoid apologizing.
xvii. Avoid using a buffer that is too long

2. Provide Reasons:
By giving your reasons effectively, you help maintain focus on the issues at hand and defuse the emotions that always accompany significantly bad news. As you lay out your reasons, guide your readers’ responses by starting with the most positive point’s first and moving forward to increasingly negative ones. Provide enough detail for the receiver to understand your reasons, but be concise; a long, roundabout explanation will just make your audience impatient. Your reasons need to convince your receiver that your decision is justified, fair, and logical. 3. Continue with a Clear Statement of the Bad News:

First, de-emphasize the bad message: Minimize the space or time devoted to the bad news—without trivializing it or withholding any important information. Subordinate bad news in a complex or compound sentence (“My department is already shorthanded, so I’ll need all my staff for at least the next two months”) This construction pushes the bad news into the middle of the sentence, the point of least emphasis. Embed bad news in the middle of a paragraph or use parenthetical expression (“Our profits, which are down, are only part of the picture”).

However, keep in mind that it’s possible to abuse de-emphasis. For instance, if the primary point of your message is that profits are down, it would be inappropriate to marginalize that news by burying it in the middle of a sentence.

Second, use a conditional (if or when) statement to imply that the audience could have received, or might someday receive, a favorable answer (“When you have more managerial experience, you are welcome to reapply”). Such a statement could motivate applicants to improve their qualifications.

Third, emphasize what you can do or have done, rather than what you cannot do. (“The five positions currently open have been filled with people whose qualification match those uncovered in our research”). By focusing on the positive and implying the bad news, you make the impact less personal. When implying bad news, be sure your audience understands the entire message – including the bad news. Withholding negative information or overemphasizing positive information is unethical and unfair to your reader. If an implied message might lead to uncertainty, state your decision in direct terms. Just be sure to avoid overly blunt statements that are likely to cause pain and anger.

TECHNIQUES FOR CUSHIONING THE BAD MESSAGE i. Position the bad news strategically, avoid the spotlight:
Put the bad news in the middle of a paragraph halfway through the message ii. Use a long sentence:
Don’t put the bad news in a short, simple sentence.
iii. Place the bad message in a subordinate clause:
Although we have no opening for an individual with your qualifications at this time, we are pleased that you thought of us when you started your job search. iv. Be clear but not overly graphic

v. Imply the refusal
vi. Suggest a compromise or an alternative
vii. Consider using the passive voice:
Passive-voice verbs focus attention on actions rather than on personalities. They are useful in being tactful.

Once you have carefully choosing the approach you would use to communicate effectively using these techniques you should know that the objective of a bad message is to convey the bad news without bruising the reader’s feelings.

5Cs to communicate bad message effectively
i. Cutbacks:
Avoid statements that might involve the company in legal actions. One thing that won’t be appreciated right now is sugar coating. Don’t wrap the news in pretty paper or dance around it. Plainly specify who, what, where, and how. ii. Context:

Explain the reasons for the problem don’t be out of context be on point and give reasons, do not deviate from the reason to please the listener. iii. Compassion:
Try as much as possible not to blame anyone around the resulting condition. Respect and proactively acknowledge natural emotions. iv. Candor:
Candor means the quality of being open and honest in expression. The truth may hurt, but any attempt to mislead is unforgiveable. v. Consistency:
Conform yourself in conveying the news for the sake of accuracy and fairness. Everything communicates avoid saying one thing and doing another.

i. Set the stage:
When framing your delivery of the message, first try to get into their heads and think about what’s important to them. Think about how the news will impact the audience and also think about how it impacts you. Then relay that information. By revealing your personal feelings about the situation, you can build a rapport and practice empathy that can help to fend off the audience’s natural reactions which may be anger, resentment or any number of other feelings. ii. Be direct:

Avoid talking too much and clouding the issues. It’s important to succinctly explain the situation and the steps that must be taken. Don’t
try to sugar coat the message because you’ll likely end up confusing your audience. iii. Acknowledge the problem:

When bad news has to be delivered despite the hard work and efforts of the team, it is imperative that you acknowledge and recognize their efforts and then carefully explain the decision along with the plan for turning things around. iv. Know what you want the audience to feel, think or do after they hear your news. Then, as you’re framing your delivery, be sure to communicate the facts, the steps that are being taken, and what you need them to do. v. Practice:

As with just about anything, practice makes perfect. By rehearsing the conversation, you’ll become more comfortable and confident about what needs to be said. And, when you deliver the news with confidence, your audience is much more likely to not only respect you, but also be able to accept that the bad news is out there and you’re now doing everything you can to make things right. vi. Stay on topic:

When having to deliver bad news, it’s very easy to take an off-ramp and become side-tracked as a way to avoid the inevitable. By doing this, you’re only making the task harder for yourself and more confusing for your audience. vii. Don’t let your audience steer the conversation:

Bad news can make people emotional, particularly when it involves performance feedback or the need to terminate employment. Acknowledge the other person’s feelings, give them a minute (or 10) to collect themselves, and move forward with the conversation. Putting it off for another day doesn’t help anyone in the long run. viii. Provide alternatives:

When it’s necessary to provide critical feedback, it’s necessary to also provide alternative actions as well as a timeline for completion. While you may have some concrete ideas for actions that need to be taken, you’ll be better served by following the next two steps before firming up your plan. ix. Ask for feedback:

Ask your audience open-ended questions that are directly related to the issue at hand and do what you can to make the environment safe enough to allow the person or people to feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and ideas. x. Listen. :

By not speaking and trying to fill in the gaps in the conversation, you are opening the door for the other person to provide feedback and to communicate what they really think. In addition, make sure you’re actively listening to what they have to say rather than thinking about how great it will be when the conversation is finally over. By listening, you’ll be much better able to work with the person or team to move beyond the bad message and begin the work that needs to be done to rectify the situation.

i. Do not make promises about the future that may not hold true. ii. Do not overreact.
iii. Do not try to protect others from bad news or yourself from sharing it. iv. Don’t make initial statement or announcement through emails. v. Don’t flout company policy if you want to share something you have been asked not to. vi. Don’t let the receiver hear the news outside.

vii. Don’t communicate bad news through text messages. viii. Don’t hide behind company policy.

Cite this page

How to Communicate Bad News Effectively?. (2016, Mar 25). Retrieved from

How to Communicate Bad News Effectively?

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