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How To Give Bad News: 3 Most Effective Ways

How To Give Bad News

As a career salesman, I have learned a lot of lessons — often the hard way. One of the most powerful lessons that I have learned is the ability to deliver bad news. Since my personality tends to steer me away from conflict, this skill has been a tough one to learn and implement in my business and personal life.

Personal Experience

In sales (and life), there are going to be plenty of times when you need to suck it up and deliver bad news. I think back to my early days as an inside salesman for a large computer hardware and software distributor. There would be many times when a customer would call me with an emergency overnight order. After checking inventory, I would assure the customer that we would be able to get his or her shipment to them the next day.

Sure enough, I would get in the next day and for some reason or another the shipment would get hung up in the warehouse or not make the cut off for overnight shipping. This would mean that the customer would not be getting the shipment that they needed so urgently. Instantly a pit would form in my stomach and it would ruin my whole day. I dreaded making the call to the customer and would sometimes let it fester and not call the client with the bad news. What I realized is that waiting only compounds the severity of the issue and the call.

The three most effective ways to go about delivering bad news include:

  • Address it ASAP – Waiting only makes the problem worse and you most likely will think about it constantly until it is addressed.
  • Own up if it’s your mistake – No excuses! Dale Carnegie writes, “If you’re wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically,” in his book How to Win Friends & Influence People. You will find that people typically understand and appreciate your candidness.
  • Come with solutions – It’s best to not only come with a problem, but bring along some solutions as well. The other party will greatly appreciate the thought that you put into fixing the issue.

After many years in sales and sporting battle scars to prove it, I now can say I am much better at delivering bad news and my relationships (both personally and professionally) are better off because of this skill. To steal a term from Acquirent’s CEO, Joe Flanagan, when you have to deliver bad news you need to just stick your head in the lion’s mouth and deal with it.

Happy selling!