IT IS NATURAL for people to respond quickly when the answer is ‘yes,’ or if there is good news to report.  The expectation that the recipient will be happy to hear the positive information makes it very easy to follow-up.  The challenge is when the answer is ‘no’ or the information is bad news.

A business needs to maintain momentum on a number of issues and dealing with bad news quickly will help facilitate that momentum.  Drawing out bad news often makes things worse because the longer it takes for a problem or issue to surface, the less time the receiver has to react, formulate a new plan, or solve the problem.  If a program needs to be terminated, adjusted, changed or amended, it is always better to deal with the issue sooner than later.  If an employee has a performance issue, it is better to discuss that issue immediately, limit the negative impact to the company, and begin the corrective action. 

Too often, we delay taking action on a negative issue hoping that circumstances will change or another alternative will be discovered.  The reality is that the delay distracts us from our business focus, prolongs the corrective process, and often creates a more difficult outcome.  It is, however, the most natural tendency in business and requires discipline and focus to overcome on a consistent basis.

Some of the best techniques for maintaining the habit of delivering bad news quickly include the following:

  • With personnel issues, try to take the same opportunity to acknowledge any strengths or positive potentials that will provide balance to the bad news.
  • For business initiatives, explain the value of what was learned and the resulting benefit of a negative decision.
  •  For policy changes, recognizing the value of acting more quickly limits the potential of inflicting more negative actions, if no action is taken now.
  • If a committee is impacted, engage in some group discussion to surface and qualify the importance and value of a tough decision. Then, proceed immediately with the decision.
  • When solely responsible for delivering the bad news, identify and focus on the benefits of early execution. Then take action with those thoughts in mind.
It is always easy to put off delivering bad news or a negative decision, but the reality is that delay usually increases the cost or impact of the decision.  We are motivated by positive circumstances and shy away from the negative ones.  The key is to think through and determine the positive benefit in expediting the delivery of any bad news.  There is always a clear benefit in getting it over with and moving forward.

You may not be able to eliminate the impact or reality associated with bad news, but you certainly will be able to identify the positive benefit in delivering the bad news quickly.  If you are the one who has to deliver bad news, it is always good practice to deliver a solution or plan of corrective action immediately following the bad news.  After all, in business, bad news happens to everyone.  What puts great businesses ahead of the rest is their ability to react to adversity.