Delivering Unfavorable News: Strategies to Ease the Angst

How to Take the Sting Out of Stressful Business Conversations

By    Maureen Pearson    Managing Program Manager projekt202

By Maureen Pearson
Managing Program Manager

As Program Managers, our job is to deliver status and information during our projects, regardless of its connotation. Since projects never seem to execute flawlessly, it is important to remember unexpected things will happen, and it is up to us to communicate both the positive and negative to our stakeholders. However, the way in which the message is delivered is the key to working through some of the more difficult circumstances.

People don’t like being the recipients of bad news and not very many people like being in the seat to be the messenger of tough topics. While you may not clamor for the position to say just how rough things might be, you may also, inevitably, find yourself saddled with the responsibility.

Included are strategies the Program Managers at projekt202 use to help ease the angst during these situations. Our experienced Program Management team recommends the following approaches when sharing difficult news with clients:

Don’t allow bad news to be a surprise. 
Bad news is never fun to deliver, but when it comes as a surprise, it is even worse. The failure to raise risks early and often is just poor project management. By continually tracking or regularly reviewing risks, the client is already prepared if and when they escalate into an issue. Reducing surprise as an initial client reaction is a great first step in managing the delivery of less than favorable news.

Don’t delay communication. 
Communicating difficult news quickly is essential. Sitting on bad news with the hopes of it improving or going away is usually not something you can bank on. More often than not, bad news gets worse as more time passes.

Be honest.  
Sugarcoating a situation to avoid giving bad news, or attempting to downplay the potential impact, does not gain you anything. At times, people become uncomfortable sharing bad news and try to hide facts or information to diminish how dire a situation might be. The truth always comes out, so be honest and allow the customer to know the full situation so a proper solution can be put in place.

Keep it simple. 
Maintain the facts by using clear, concise communication. When possible, try not to talk only in technical terms as this may not resonate with non-technical stakeholders. Make sure you get to the point quickly, so the focus can then be on solutions.

Prepare/Present solutions.
When approaching your client with unpleasant news, present solutions with an action plan to solve the problems at hand. This demonstrates that there is something that can be done to improve the situation and it gives hope. Presenting problems and issues without solutions tends to exacerbate the situation at hand. 

Anticipate stakeholder response. 
Being prepared with solutions is very important when a project has veered off course and needs corrective action. Additionally, when communicating to the stakeholders, spend time preparing for their reactions and responses. Anticipating their questions and concerns shows that you have taken the time to think through the problem and have prepared the best options for success.

Be compassionate. 
Consider both sides when communicating the situation. While it is not easy to share troublesome news, it isn’t any easier to be the recipient. It can be helpful to use phrases such as, “I can imagine this is difficult to hear,” or “We understand this is not ideal, but here are the ways we are going to solve this.” Showing that you understand the impact and the frustration aligns you with your clients and their business. It shows that you are a team and have thought through a plan of action.

Answer their questions.  
Allow the customer to ask questions. It is not recommended to drop difficult news and then dismiss concerns that come up. If you don’t have an immediate answer, take the action to follow up after you have had a chance to investigate the ask. This is another area that you can show empathy by listening and taking their concerns seriously.

Communicate, act, and follow through. 
After presenting an action plan to correct the situation, track and report on progress to your stakeholders. Daily updates are encouraged to show improvement, progress and remediation. This is a great vehicle to show the bad news is turning around.

By taking the above guidelines into consideration, delivering difficult news will be easier. While it can be our nature to avoid conflict, being prepared allows for careful consideration for these types of conversations.

At projekt202, by being open, honest, compassionate, and acting on a plan, we find these situations much easier to handle, ultimately keeping our clients happy and building trust.

Published Oct. 29, 2018

projekt202 is the leader in experience-driven software strategy, design and development. We have a unique and established methodology for understanding people in context — we reveal unmet needs — which drives everything we do. This leads to a crisp, clear understanding of the customer, which shapes the design and development of new solutions and experiences. We have the expertise, teams, skills and scale to deliver sophisticated software solutions that improve any and all touchpoints across the user journey.

projekt202 has spent over 15 years bringing to life and to market compelling experiences through our Experience Strategy & InsightUser ExperienceSoftware DevelopmentMarketing & Analytics, and Program Management practices. Our talented team has delivered emotionally-rich and intuitive solutions for global brands and clients such as 7-Eleven, Allstate, Canon, Capital One, Dell, McKesson, Mercedes-Benz Financial Services, Neiman Marcus, Samsung Electronics, Subway and The Container Store, among many others.

projekt202 has offices in AustinChicagoDallas and Seattle.