Communicating difficult messages

Sometimes we are tasked with communicating difficult messages at work. A difficult message doesn’t necessarily mean that something utterly dire has happened, such as a family death, but rather there may be a substantial issue with a client that needs to be dealt with.

The first step to communicating a difficult message is to be honest. Don’t try to gloss over the seriousness of a situation, but don’t be overly blunt. You goal is to get all of the points out in a way that fits the situation. You need to be clear in exactly what you’re communicating when passing on a message. There should be no room for grey areas or false hope, your job is to tell it like it is.

Whoever you’re talking to, you should give them time and space to respond. If it’s a client, ask if they need a few moments to think over what you’ve said. If it’s your boss or a colleague, your next step is to ask what they need from you (if anything). Allow them to express their emotion in this time, and if they ask you to leave, you should do so as quickly and tacitly as possible.

If you’re asked for your opinion on the matter, give your counsel to the best of your ability. You may not be qualified to give the advice that is needed, but if you can soothe the person you’re talking to and let them use you as a sounding board, you’ll be surprised how much you’ll help them.