Delivering Bad News | Shelle Rose Charvet | Shelle’s Top Tips

Nobody likes to deliver bad news. Nobody likes to hear bad news. That’s why it makes a lot of people uncomfortable.

For many, many years in management circles, people have been taught “The Feedback Sandwich”. I wrote an article called “The Feedback Sandwich is Out to Lunch”.

Read the article “The Feedback Sandwich is Out to Lunch” »

I think it doesn’t work because the Feedback Sandwich consists of:

First you tell somebody something nice
and then
you tell them the bad news or what they did wrong or what they need to improve
and then
you give them an overall nice little complimentary something.
So the bad stuff is stuck in between. It’s sandwiched between two pieces of fluff.

Here’s what has happened as a result of that. People have heard the feedback sandwich so often that as soon as their boss or a colleague comes in and says something nice like, “Oh, you did such a good job on that report” or anything like that, they are then waiting for the bad news in between. So we’re thinking, “Oh, my God! This person is now going to tell me something terrible.”

That doesn’t really work because already people start to feel bad as soon as you say something nice.

I’ll be talking about how to give compliments and praise in another of Shelle’s Top Tips, but today we want to talk about what you really need to do when you have something bad to tell somebody.

So first of all, what is bad news? Bad news is anything the other person doesn’t want to hear. So they can’t get what they want, they’ll have to do overtime, anything they don’t want to hear.

The Bad News Formula
One of the objections to the Bad News Formula is that people say, “Well, what if you have something devastating to tell somebody, like if they’re losing their job or if you get really bad news from a doctor or any of those things that can happen that are really bad news. Does it work then?

Well, it doesn’t make the bad news go away. The Bad News Formula doesn’t do that, but what it does do is make it easier to hear.

It’s based on two very important memory principles. People remember what they hear first, what they hear last, and they don’t remember so well what they hear in the middle. So I believe that the most important thing is what you leave people with.

Here’s the Bad News Formula.

First of all, you sit down with the person or you set up a situation where it’s okay and comfortable for them to talk. So that’s the first part. Establish rapport. Make the person comfortable, and then tell them the bad news. “You know, I wanted to let you know that the resources you asked for are not going to be there. You can’t have them. But we have thought about your request and we know that it’s important, and what we want to look at with you is some alternative ways of getting there and looking at what we can do in the short term that gets somewhere towards where you want to go and we do recognize that it is really important to you.” So that’s an example.

So the formula goes like this:
bad news
but good news
and good news
and good news.

What if you have no good news? Find something positive in the relationship. There’s always some good news there, but if you put the bad news at the beginning and then put the word “but” there and then you have three pieces of good news, what you’re doing is you’re setting it up so that the person can balance out the one piece of bad news with three pieces of good news. In that way you get to move toward something a little bit more productive.

I had an example of this in my e-newsletter that I send out. I have an irregular e-newsletter. It has tips and advice and some of the events that I’m doing around the world. One day I wrote an article, and I can’t remember what the article was. It could have been Bloopers, Blunders, and Faux Pas. That was an article I wrote on what you do when you open your mouth and say something that you shouldn’t have said.

Read my article “Bloopers, Blunders, and Faux Pas” »

I got an e-mail from somebody who said to me, “Shelle, I really liked your e-newsletter topic. I’ve tweaked it a bit and I’d like to send it out to my customers. Is that okay under my own name?” Is that okay? I was sitting in my office going, “No, that is not okay. It is not okay to put your name on my ideas.”

So I set up a meeting with him because I don’t think it’s a good idea to do this on email. I said to him, “George, there is no way that I’m going to give you my permission to put your name on my ideas, but I’m delighted that you liked my email and I do want you to send it to your clients, and all you have to do is leave it exactly as it is, forward it to them, they’ll be happy, you’ll be happy, and I’ll be happy.”

Now, he was quite okay with that, but if you listen to what I said, my bad news at the beginning was very tough. I said, “There is no way I’m going to give you my permission to put your name on my ideas, but…” and then I gave him three pieces of very positive information. I think that’s something that everybody can do.

I know a couple of people who now have the Bad News Formula on a sticky on their computer so that when they have to do bad news on email, the Bad News Formula is right there.

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I’d love to hear your feedback. How was this article useful to you? You can leave a comment below or message me directly at [email protected]

Hope to hear from you.


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