Make Breaking Bad News Easier

Everyone has to be the bearer of bad news at one point or another. Despite the fact that the “business is business” all to often it also becomes personal. If you have the habit of being a good communicator, however, when the time rolls around to bring home the bad news you run less of a risk of becoming the enemy.

Dr. Robert Buckman from the University of Toronto has broken bad news for years, and has developed the SPIKES technique to help high level professionals and doctors learn a better way to break bad news. He recently shared his “breaking bad news” method with Entrepreneur.com.

Setting: Have the exchange in person. Sit less than four feet away, keep your eyes on the same level and show interest by leaning forward. If it has to be done by phone or video, acknowledge that the medium is lame. Avoid text or e-mail unless you’re trying to be a bossjerk.

Perception: Find out what people already know or suspect; it’ll ease them into the situation. If you’re about to lay someone off, you might ask, “How do you think things are going?”

Invitation: Prepare them for what’s coming. Say you’d like to talk about the situation so they know you’re about to talk about “something big.”

Knowledge: Your delivery should be straightforward and chronological. (“The economy is bad and the budget is down, so we have to cut staff.”) Never use jargon.

Empathy: Acknowledge the person’s emotions appropriately. Be attentive and supportive, but don’t say “I know how you feel,” because you don’t. Buckman suggests something more along the lines of: “This is a terrible shock to you” or even “This feels awful to both of us.”

Summary: Don’t end the conversation until you’ve addressed their emotions and talked about the next steps.

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