Pachter's Pointers:
Business Etiquette Tips & Career Suggestions


5 Ways To Deliver Difficult News

I Really Didn't Know How To Have This Conversation

A vendor told a loyal customer that he would send her a job quote, but four weeks later she hadn’t heard from him. The vendor finally texted her, “I didn’t know how to tell you, but I’ve been too busy to do your work. Sorry. I really didn’t know how to have this conversation.”

She was furious with him: “If he had told me right up front, I would have understood. But I won’t use his services again.”

How do you deliver difficult news? Here are 5 suggestions that give you the best chance of conveying your message and maintaining a relationship:

1. Don’t delay! The longer you wait, the harder it gets. Take a little time to get your thoughts together, but don’t put off the discussion. When you do, you usually create more problems.

2. Face up to your responsibility. Don’t delegate this assignment to someone else. If it is your job to deliver the news, you should do so.

3. Choose the correct way. It’s usually best to talk face-to-face, just make sure that you are in a private setting. Other people don’t need to hear the discussion. If that is not possible, the telephone is the next best alternative. Email is informal, but it can work if most of your communication has been by email. Avoid sending difficult news via a text message. It is usually too impersonal, abrupt, and annoyingly prolonged because of the space limitations of a text. One man had to send four messages to convey his complete thought.

4. Pick your words carefully. Explain the situation without using negative, stern language. Be honest, without being cruel. Write down what you want to say. Read the words out loud. If it sounds harsh to you, it will sound harsh to the other person.

5. Offer alternatives, if you have them. Saying “I’m unable to do this because…, but I can do this for you” will make the news easier for others to hear. A boss told his employee that she didn’t get the promotion, but told her that he would help her find a training class to gain the necessary skills to move ahead.

Additional information on difficult conversations can be found in my book The Power of Positive Confrontation. ( )

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