“Bearers of bad news have a bad reputation. Nobody likes to hear what they have to say, so it’s unsurprising that the messenger approaches the situation with some level of anxiety. The phrase “don’t shoot the messenger” dates back to 1598 in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part II. Even earlier, “no one loves the messenger who brings bad news” was Antigone by Sophocles (written in or before 442 BC). We’ve been giving the messenger a hard time for many years, and that’s likely lead to consistent poor form when delivering bad news. It’s time to forget all of that, drop the anxiety, and just get to the point when you have something difficult to say.” – LifeHacker
Today, I was the bearer of bad news.
Well, I tried to ease in to delivering some bad news today. I tried to ease into it and make it extremely painless. Instead, once again, instead of receiving the bad news objectively, the receiver accused me of doing something underhanded or having some motive in delivering the news. Without getting into details, I can only say that I was very disappointed in this individual – someone who could never trust me but always seemed able to trust others who I felt deserved it less – and quite shocked at their reaction to me. But, here is what dumbfounds me even as I write it: I truly had no motive and was myself outside of the situation surrounding the negative news! I ran into this person and instead of just walking away, I decided to go ahead and be cordial, since this is a small world. I wrote two emails thanking this person about this website critique as well as providing motivational materials for this individual’s journey into what looks to be some tough graduate work. I felt proud of this person, and at the same time I thought I did a good job delivering great motivational emails.
Today, my message was concise: “Just be careful; don’t get hurt again.” A simple and considerate message, yes? So I thought. However, instead of getting a “thank you” for the information, I was subjected to a verbal firestorm that pointed the finger at me! Now, I realize that this person was upset and didn’t want to face the truth – something I can only hope that time and reflection will reveal. Since I was the bearer of the bad news, I became the target of the lashing-out, and I understand this. However, I can only hope that when time passes and all open wounds have healed, this person will realize that I had no motive or angle in my delivery. I only meant to inform.
I asked many friends today if my actions were appropriate. I got mixed results; it was 50/50. Perhaps I should have kept the information to myself and moved on, since it was not my business to inform. Is that the right thing to do? It sure averts the heartache and the headache…
Here are some valuable lessons that I learned today:
- Trust your gut instinct – My gut said “stay away!” and I didn’t listen to it. “Don’t get involved” should have been the motto today.
- Bearing bad news to someone who doesn’t trust you is an unwise move, especially when it is not necessarily your news to bear.
- Once you lose someone’s trust, it is very difficult to get it back. The skeptical party would rather trust complete strangers on the Internet than you. The more you try to convince, the worse things will get.
- If you do make the mistake of trying to bear someone else’s bad news for them, and the receiver already doesn’t trust you, you can beat yourself up over the poor decision to open your mouth in the first place; but it’s more important that you realize that what’s done is DONE. “Move on” is a good motto for situations like these.
– I hope all of you who are reading this learn something, since it is 100% real life and can happen to anyone.
Update from editor’s perspective: Michael J. Warner
Not sure if this article is so much about strategies for bearing bad news or lessons learned when needing to give bad news as it is about using foresight when thinking about delivering bad news that is not your place to deliver. For example, Paul is going to get fired. You hear this through the office grapevine. You find Paul to be a likeable guy, but you two aren’t necessarily the best of friends. In fact, you find yourselves often in competition with one another for this or that thing. You run into Paul the day he’s being fired (but hasn’t been fired yet), and you think it would be a good idea to let him know that he’s going to be fired. Paul lashes out at you, because he feels like you are taking the opportunity to rub it in that he will be fired. He already felt a bit un-trusting toward you, now he trusts you even less as a quality guy. Bad news bears. This is what I got from this article. The lesson here is not about how best to approach delivering bad news; it’s about learning to NOT give someone else’s bad news for them. However, doing an article on strategies for bearing bad news that you are supposed to bear would be an interesting article for sure. Perspectives from the corporate world, health care world, sports world, etc. could be gathered and used. Anyhow, just my thoughts!
When someone you thought you knew well would rather trust a stranger (from online) than you, something is royally messed up, wouldn’t you say? – SjC