Management 306

Week 08

Hi everyone. Welcome. This is the Bad News Lecture from Management 306. Now, bad news is something that requires a lot of skill. In addition to including the key information, putting things in the right place, putting them in the right order, including what you need to include, not including what you don't need to include, the style and tone, the words you use, the words you choose need to fit the news you're conveying and you need to find a way to say what it is you need to say in the most effective way possible. There's a lot of terribly written bad news out there and no doubt you will see some, one of the other hopefully it doesn't reflect directly to you, but in this class we're going to address some of the more effective and correct ways to write bad news. Now, once again, the lecture is on the website. The PowerPoint is up there. I'm not going to read every single slide. I'm going to be addressing the ideas that are in there and I encourage you to go ahead and look at the PowerPoint material on your own. Writing sensitive or negative messages requires careful thought. You just decide how direct or indirect your message should be and then choose words that maintain a professional relationship. Research has shown that people form their impressions and attitudes very early when reading. Now, I mentioned that earlier by the way, and I said I was going to refer to it again in a later lecture on bad news; people form their impressions and attitudes very early when reading. When you are the author of a piece of writing and especially when that writing conveys bad news, something people do not want, it's very important that from the first word, from the very first words, that you recognize that you are forming an impression and so you want to make sure that that impression is the impression you wish to form. Basically, for purposes of this class we're going to say there are two ways to convey bad news, direct and indirect. Generally, indirect is the preferred method; however, especially in American business, you'll see a lot of very direct conveying of bad news. Sometimes there's legal reasons to do it that way, sometimes not, sometimes it's company culture. The difference I want to bring up here, the point I want to make is how, and I said American business, different cultures, different societies, different countries, there will be different styles and because now we're discussing style and we haven't really discussed that in the past with persuasion, especially selling, I discussed using selling words, but especially with bad news, there will be a culturally acceptable way to convey bad news and a culturally unacceptable way and especially this kind of communication it's very important that you understand the difference. So, I cannot address international correspondence, international standards because I know that they are very different in different countries. So I will focus on American business, nevertheless, I want you to be aware of that, okay? Now, if you take a look at the PowerPoints, you'll see there's a lot of aspects to conveying something that's especially a negative message. You have to make your decision clear. You have to help your audience accept the message. You want to maintain a good girl relationship. You want to prevent further unnecessary discussion. You want to preserve the company's image and you want to protect the company against lawsuits. That is a lot. There's a lot going on in bad news communication. You're trying to convey your information. You want to keep things as positive as humanly possible as you can. You don't want to encourage it to go on and on. In other words, you have to convey the bad news and then you have to move on, and you also have to worry about lawsuits that are these that are coming, so there's a lot going on there. So, I'm going to talk about refusing. There's these other elements to this, but I want to focus on the refusing part of this communication, because that's usually when, for example, you're getting turned down for a job; that's a form of refusing. So, I have a specific diagram here. If you look at the slides you'll see that refusing is composed of four parts; the context or the buffer; the explanation; the bad news; and the goodwill close and I'm going to talk about each one of those parts. But, recognize there's four parts to it. There were four parts to a selling methods; four parts to persuasion. There were four parts to a bad news message, and specifically, when you go to your homework, I want you to keep this in mind because you should be targeting four paragraphs in this order. The first one will be your context or your buffer, then an explanation, then the bad news. Notice, and this will be indirect communication, notice bad news doesn't come until the third paragraph. It is very important. If you move it up, if you decide to break the bad news in paragraph one, it's no longer indirect, it is now very direct. So, and then finally you want to end with goodwill close. Now, getting into each of these in a little more detail, the opening often called a buffer should provide a context for the subject and establish a professional tone. You want to be neutral, relevant, supportive, interesting, and you know, really not that long. You just want to get, you want to start. What's coming down in paragraph three will be the bad news, but you're not going to start there. You're going to start with something neutral and positive to begin and just to establish a relationship. If for example, you are conveying something bad to a group of employees and that, you know, if you look at the homework assignment about doing layoffs, if you are conveying a negative message, what you would start with is a paragraph simply where you're saying something positive like, you know, you know I value the employees very highly in this company and together we've, you know, accomplished a great deal, something positive to establish your relationship. That's your opening paragraph. Now, the next paragraph you're going to get into the specifics, the details, the facts, the what's called the explanation for what is to come, because you know as the author the next paragraph is going to be the bad news, but you don't start with the bad news and then give the explanation, you start with the explanation then you give the bad news. So, you want to put it in this order. So, the second paragraph is going to be an explanation; what is the problem? What has happened? What's going on? Now, here's where you want to explain things. You stress reasons of what's going on. You describe company policy. You want to organize your reasons and, you know, is the best, strongest reasons first? So, you're second paragraph is going to be an explanation. Now, after you've started out with a buffer, then you give an explanation. Now, and this is again indirect, now you break your bad news and here is where you have to simply state whatever it is that's negative and people don't want to hear and don't want to read about, but this is where you have to include it in your message. So, there's different ways to do it. There's different styles, but the tone, the words you choose are going to play a great, a large role in how your message is perceived, so you want to really choose your words carefully here. Bad news, you want to present the bad news as a logical outcome. That is to say that what you put into your explanation, now you want to say you want it to flow naturally. In other words, here were the problems, here what's occurred, so now here is the bad news. I can give you an example. I don't want to, I'll address the homework in the next lecture, so I don't want to address that. I'll give you an example of an assignment I used to do with bad news assignment. It was a child in a daycare facility with acting out. He was his behavior was such that he was, you know, biting other people and attacking other people, so the daycare center simply couldn't allow him to stay with the other children for a variety of reasons. It could have been emotion, it could have been physical, you know, the specific cause of the behavior for this child literally being a problem to simply be in a group with other children, I didn't address. I'm just addressing the daycare then having to deal with the situation. So, they had to write a letter to the parents explaining why their child could not be in that daycare. Now, when your child is in a daycare and they come home with bites on them from another child you're going to be pretty, pretty very unhappy about that and you're going to be in their daycare saying, "How is it my child is being harmed in your daycare? This is a place of safety. What are you doing to prevent this?" So, the daycare center really can't allow this to continue at all. They have to take action. They have to take action immediately. They have to protect the other children, and if there's nothing, and there's no blame associated with this particular child. There may be perfectly good reasons. There may be physical reasons. There may be psychological reasons, emotional reasons. So, that's not an issue, the issue is they simply have to deal with the behavior that they're dealing with. So, that was the situation and what the daycare having to do was in the second paragraph explain the problems, the biting, and the attacking, and the specific problems, so that in the third paragraph, the bad news paragraph, that's where they broke the bad news that indeed the child could no longer remain in the daycare. Now, so your, the point here is that when you put your explanation in paragraph two, when you get to paragraph there, you want it to make sense. In other words, you want whatever the bad news is that is the obvious logical result of what you described in paragraph two. If they don't connect, if it doesn't make any sense, then your reader is going to go "one has nothing to do with the other, why are you telling me this?" So, if you're writing about people being laid off, you want to discuss the reason, you know, what has led to the company needing to lay off people and specifically a certain group so that in paragraph three when you say this is the layoff, people will, at least it will make sense. There's the reason. They not agree with it. They may not like it. The may be unhappy about it, but at least they'll understand. The same thing with the daycare, you want to explain your reasons in paragraph two so that in paragraph three you then say "Unfortunately because of these events we can no longer allow your child to remain in out daycare. These actions are taken for, you know, the safety of all the children involved. We know, we hope you'll understand. "You know, that kind of thing. So, you want to make sure that you say a full explanation in paragraph two so that paragraph three then makes sense. State the bad news in a positive and impersonal language. Don't apologize unless you're at fault, but make it definite. Now, this is where you really need to be clear. It's unfortunate you have to convey the bad news but you do. So, you just need to say it and make it very definite so that otherwise what you will end up doing is inviting people to try to reverse it; "I don't want to be laid off. I want to keep my job, you know, find me another job or, you know, it's not my child's fault. It's all the other children. He says it's them. So, stick him back in daycare." In other words, you're going to get people who receive the bad news will try to challenge it or reverse it unless you make it very definite, "This is the final outcome. There is none other." So, it's very important that you say that. At the same time, you want to be polite and clear that it's definite, but you don't need to be harsh or critical, just state in very positive but impersonal language. And then finally, I'm sure there's plenty of lawyers out there that will tell you don't apologize. Possibly and I'm not an attorney on this, but possibly an apology could be interpreted as you're at fault in some way. I don't know that that's true or not. I'm not, again, I say I'm not an attorney, but an apology may not really assist you in terms of what it is you're trying to accomplish, but at the same, and you can convey through your style and your tone that you can convey that you wish this person all the best and that you're not trying to be harsh about it, but you just have to convey this bad news. Now, the last paragraph now that you've broken the bad news should be short, because the person reading it is probably going to stop reading it at this point, but nevertheless, you want to close on the most positive note that you can. It's called the goodwill close and if you look at the slide you'll see that there are things you should avoid doing like apologizing, like inviting them to come in and challenge it, using a cliché is a terrible approach. As you know, clichés are these sort of over used expressions. If you're not familiar of what a cliché is, it's just something you hear over and over again like "Let's run it up the [inaudible]." These are, and the business world is full of these things like "Let's run it up the flag pole", or "Let's all go for a touchdown." And they're not referring, and when they say let's, we're going to you know, we're going to punt. It's fourth and long lets' punt, and they're not talking about a football game. You're in a business meeting. They love to use sports clichés. They love to use military clichés. The problem is you absolutely under no circumstances should use a cliché in any event, but you certainly don't even consider the idea when you're doing bad news. It will absolutely backfire on you hugely. I'll give you an example. Suppose this is creating a hardship for the person receiving the bad news which typically it is and then you decide to offer words, positive words of encouragement taken from you know using this cliché "When the going gets tough, the tough get going." Now, I can almost guarantee you if you say that, you're going to make everybody hate you that reads that. That's unfortunate, but that's a fact. That's actually what it is. So, make sure that you do not use a cliché in your goodwill close or anywhere else in your bad news. What should you say? Well, you can be positive. You can offer best wishes. Possibly you can refer them to other opportunities that they may consider. You may have knowledge of, if you're writing a daycare letter, you may have knowledge of other daycare facilities that are more, that are more setup for handling behavior, certain behavior kinds of behavior problems and you could recommend that. If you're doing layoffs you could recommend outplacement facilities, very, very common in corporate layoffs to recommend outplacement. So, these are, these are just examples. This is sort of the structure or the hypothetical example for how to do refusing. As you do the homework, you'll obviously have to put one together and you'll see samples and so on, but I just want to give you the broad strokes of the four elements that would go in in that order for doing indirect bad news. Thank you.