Let Your Wine Age…Not Your Bad News

Deal-with-Bad-News-Icon-Image-300x200As I was watching a TV talk show the other night, one of the guests on the program said,

The good news is that, according to the President, the rich will pay for everything. The bad news is that, according to the President, you’re rich.

I didn’t know if I wanted to laugh or cry.

The one thing I do know, however, is that bad news will always be a part of your life at least some of the time – whether you’re receiving bad news or giving it.

So what’s the right way to deal with bad news?  Let’s start with those times when you’re the recipient.


1. Welcome bad news coming your way.

All of us are probably guilty of tuning out information we don’t want to hear. At work we may label the bearers of bad news as “nay-sayers,” as people who are doing nothing more than fighting the changes that are being implemented. At home we may see the negative comments made by our family members as the same old thing we’ve heard a thousand times before.

What do you do when you’re confronted with bad news? Do you pretend to listen or do you focus your entire attention on what is being said? Do you try to talk the other person out of feeling what he is feeling or do you ask questions? Do you fake caring, saying an occasional “uh-huh,” or do you paraphrase the essence of the other person’s comments? You may not like the bad news, but chances are you need to hear it.

In business, we’ve long talked about the phenomenon of “shooting the messenger.” In other words, when people bring too much “bad news,” it’s easier to shoot them than listen to them. It’s easier to criticize them, berate them or ignore them than thank them, encourage them, and listen to them. It’s easier to see them as eternally negative, complaining pains-in-the-butt than team players who could be doing us a favor.

That’s right. They’re doing us a favor. The customer who complains is giving you a chance to recover his business. The customer who says nothing probably goes elsewhere. The spouse who complains is suggesting how things could be better. The spouse who says nothing leaves you in the dark.

So I’m suggesting that you listen to bad news rather than “shoot the messenger.”  Do three things.

 – CREATE AN ATMOSPHERE THAT INVITES, ENCOURAGES, AND REWARDS BAD NEWS. Tell people you appreciate them taking the time to tell you what you need to know. Not everyone would bother. Ask them to let you know as soon as any other problems turn up.

 – DO SOMETHING ABOUT THE BAD NEWS. People feel good when you take the time to listen to them, but they won’t feel good if you don’t do something about what they said. That doesn’t mean you have to do exactly what they want, but you have to do something. And tell them what you did.

 – DO SOMETHING SOONER THAN LATER. I’ve had lots of people tell me they could have saved a lot of time, money, and energy if they had attended my “Journey to the Extraordinary” program years ago.  And I’ve had lots of people tell me they could have built a much more productive team if they had invested a day in my “Power of Partnership” seminar.

Take those steps and you’ll turn most bad news into something you can use for good.

But what about those times you have to say some unpleasant things?


2. Filter the bad news you’re about to deliver.

There’s a verse in the Bible that says “for everything there is a season.” In other words, timing is critical. Don’t just do the right thing; do the right thing at the right time.

That’s so true when it comes to conflict. I meet a lot of people who hate conflict. They’ll do anything they can to avoid it because, in their minds, it’s never the right time to fight. I also meet a few people who will fight anybody anytime if they don’t get their way. Neither extreme is very effective.

If you want better results, TIME YOUR BAD NEWS CAREFULLY. In other words, there’s a time to speak and a time to shut up.

Just ask yourself three questions. If you get a “yes” to each question, I would say you’re timing is as good as it can get.  So go ahead. Bring it up, talk it out, and work it through.

The first question you should ask yourself is, “DOES A THREAT EXIST?” Is that other person doing something that is getting in the way of your happiness or success?

Perhaps a coworker is spreading false rumors about you. Does that threaten your relationship with other coworkers? It probably does. Or maybe your child selects a gross-colored shirt to wear. Does that threaten your success? Probably not.

If you can say yes, a threat exists, ask yourself a second question, “IS IT WORTH A FIGHT?” Some things are worth fighting for, such as a happier marriage or more satisfied customers. Other things aren’t worth the hassle.

One man told me of a year-long battle he had with his son. The father, a military man, despised his son’s long hair. They had several arguments over it, until one day the dad realized he had a good son.

He said his son received good grades, had very nice friends, and never got in trouble. The teachers often commented on how much they liked his son, and indeed, he was an asset to the school.

The dad told me that he suddenly realized that the more he and his son fought, the further they drifted apart. He realized he was losing his son over a haircut. It didn’t pass my second test. It wasn’t worth a fight, so he dropped that issue.

But if you can say “yes, a threat exists” and “yes, it’s worth a fight,” then ask yourself, “IF I FIGHT, CAN I MAKE A DIFFERENCE?” If your experience tells you there is no way the other person will listen to you, there’s no way he’ll go along with you, then shut up. Don’t waste your breath. Don’t fight that battle. You’re going to lose anyway.

If you follow the advice given above, you won’t be arguing with idiots, and you won’t be an idiot. You’ll be getting more positive results because you’ve chosen to do the right thing at the right time.


Final Thought:  Never argue with an idiot. He’ll drag you down to his level and then beat you with experience.