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How Do You Present Bad News? What We Can Learn from Malaysia Airlines Flight 370

by | Apr 8, 2014

Whether you are waiting for your biopsy diagnosis, your third quarter return after a rocky sales’ season, or your controversial NYT book review – you will come to a point in your world where you’re the recipient of bad news.

Similarly, whether you’re the doctor sharing bad news, or the CFO giving a bad financial performance, or the NYT book reviewer writing the controversial opinion – you will come to a point in your world where you’re the giver of bad news.

What we can learn from the tragic aftermath of the lost Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 is how to communicate bad news. These four guidelines can be used for whatever bad news you might have to impart to your employees, patients, or stockholders.

  1. Share what you know. Be clear and speak the truth, as difficult as it may be.
  2. Share what you don’t know. Be forthcoming about the missing links. In the case of Flight 370, the lack of information has been the most challenging aspect for both the communicators and the recipients.
  3. Share your information in a timely fashion. Bad news gets even worse when left to fester. As soon as is legally feasible, you must provide the info you know and reveal what you don’t know.
  4. Empathize with your audience. Robert Bies, a professor of management at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, wrote in the Forbes Leadership Forum, “Remember when delivering bad news that the news never reaches just one; it reaches many. Others will be listening and watching, and even more will be interested.” Provide your challenging information with care and concern. Put yourself in the situation of the recipients. Be mindful of their pain and address the issues with compassion.

Karen Cortell Reisman, M.S., author of 3 books and President of Speak For Yourself®, works with organizations on how to communicate to make more money. It’s all in how you speak for yourself. Read more at www.SpeakForYourself.com/blog/


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