Category Archives: Human Experience

How to Deliver Bad News

Occasionally, throughout my career, I have had to deliver bad news and I’ve had a fair bit delivered to me.  Sometimes it has been about people (not getting a desired job, raise or promotion), sometimes about mistakes that were made on the job (proposal did not get delivered by deadline, project can’t be taken on).  As we’re in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, this can range anywhere from telling your kid you have to cancel their birthday party to telling a staff member or consultant that a project has gone on hold to letting friends or colleagues know that someone they have come in contact with has become ill.  Over a few recessions, a natural disaster or two and now a pandemic, I’ve learned a few things about how to deliver bad news.  As I watch elected and healthcare officials talk about “abundance of caution”, I learn more.  Here’s what I think helps:

  1. Recognize that doing this will be difficult for you and for the other person.  Most of us hate conflict so it’s legitimate to feel some remorse about being the “bad guy”.  Before delivering uncomfortable news, it’s important to take a moment to acknowledge our feelings about having to be the messenger so we can come to the interaction in a supportive and businesslike fashion.
  2. Focus on what you can do.  If the news you have to deliver is that you can’t do/ didn’t succeed at something, look at what you can do to solve the problem.  For example, “I can’t work on that today but let me see who else has some time to assist you.”  or “I can’t talk with you about this right now; could we meet tomorrow?”  If a messenger service doesn’t deliver an RFP by the deadline, you can ask the messenger service to call the client and admit the error.  If you make an error you can’t reverse, you can own up and talk about the steps you’ll take to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
  3. Don’t blame the recipient.  During the Great Recession, I was laid off by someone who seemed angry with me that they had to tell me about it.  Thus, while that the person was telling me it wasn’t my fault, their demeanor made it felt like they were blaming me.  Getting bad news is difficult enough, so the emotional complexities of the bearer should not complicate it.  In other words, check yourself before you wreck yourself and the other person.
  4. Don’t delay.  Our anxiety about conflict usually makes us want to postpone difficult conversations.  On the flipside, the stress of not knowing can sometimes be more uncomfortable than having the information that allows us to move onward.  My rule is, I delay long enough to process my feelings (absolutely less than half a day) then bite the bullet and get it done.  Bad news doesn’t get better with age, and it usually gets worse if someone finds out through back channels rather than directly from you.
  5. When appropriate, clearly and succinctly explain why.  It is usually good for someone to know why something bad happened/is happening, but not always appropriate.  When it is appropriate, it helps to be clear and succinct about the why and to use concrete examples of behavior or circumstances to illustrate the point.  When is it not appropriate?  For me, it’s either when there’s an HR issue involving another employee (which you can’t disclose) or when someone continues to ask for something you’ve already said no to and there’s not a work around. In the latter case, remember “No” is a complete sentence.

Delivering bad news is never pleasant (at least it shouldn’t be), but we can at least make it a little easier by doing it thoughtfully.

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Filed under bad news, Human Experience, Uncategorized, workplace behavior

Coloring Outside the Lines

I was having a conversation over lunch today which reminded me that the more I refine my practice of AEC marketing, the more it requires me to venture into subject areas that were previously thought to be outside of my purview or pay grade.   Let me illustrate:

Let’s say I’m charged with charting a course that will get my firm to a determined revenue goal within a determined amount of time.  Among the considerations I look at under the circumstances is how profitable we are with certain types of clients or market verticals.  While gathering such information, I may learn that, for example, we tend to do civic work more profitably than healthcare.  I may also learn that, within the civic realm, we are more likely to be profitable when working with client A vs. client B.  I may also learn that profitability within this sector is much more dependent on which project manager/supervisor is leading the work than on type of project or the client.  Each of these outcomes requires a different response.

If I know we are more profitable with civic than healthcare, my response may be to work on lowering opportunity costs for healthcare pursuits.  Many of the steps that can be taken toward this end are in marketing’s wheelhouse.  If I learn that we’re more profitable working for client A than client B, I can gather and share this information to help make informed decisions about who we want to pursue and how much we want to spend pursuing them.  Some of this is in marketing’s wheelhouse too.  If, however, I learn that the real difference is based on which employee manages the job, most of the solutions that need to be employed to address the problem are not traditionally in marketing’s “lane”.  However, in my opinion, they are still marketing’s business.

Marketing has historically been an amplifier, not a creator of the firm’s “brand” – which is the cumulative perception of all the various experiences those inside and outside the firm have in their interactions with you – something we now call “human experience”.    What marketing communicates becomes what potential clients/employees/project partners expect.  Unless our billable colleagues can consistently deliver on what marketing promises, we set ourselves up to fail.  Thus, in the age of instant, on-line ratings posted on, Glassdoor, Yelp and the like, the days of “staying in my lane” are, by necessity, over.

So, how do I broach the subject when I see a marketing problem that’s not really mine to fix?  I believe the correct course of action is to present the challenge to my firm leaders with enough data to demonstrate why it’s a marketing problem.  I ask them to fix it and to keep me in the loop as they do.  I then try to focus my marketing efforts on the areas when I know we can deliver on our promise.  I also trust my firm leaders to keep me posted as they fix any problems that compromise a complete and positive customer experience.

 

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Filed under CX, Human Experience, HX, marketing, project management, team