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Delivering Bad News to the Boss? Here’s How to Look Good When You Do

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screaming business woman

Breaking bad news to your boss is like being the sober sister on girl’s night; someone has to be the sacrificial lamb. While you may feel trepidatious about informing your supervisor that something has gone terribly, terribly wrong, the situation may be a blessing in disguise. (Click here to Tweet this thought.)

Employers are looking for individuals who know how to think on their feet, can adapt quickly and can communicate effectively. Reframing a work travesty by offering up solid, well-researched solution in a timely manner will prove to your boss you’re not only a thinker, but also a doer with management potential.

So when that moment strikes and you have to break bad news to the person determining if you can to go home for the holidays, consider the following strategies:

1. Bring the whole story to the table

Rushing to squeal that the keynote speaker for your annual conference just got a DUI isn’t going to make anyone’s day any better.

Before you make a move, consider the source. Is this information coming from a credible outlet or individual? Providing disturbing yet uninformed information is problematic. Do your research (quickly!) so you can provide context to the decision-maker. Then they can make an informed choice on how to proceed.

Knowing all the details helps frame the situation, allows for the best decision-making to occur and makes you look like a mature and informed colleague rather than an opportunistic tattletale.

2. Be an objective party

Taking sides and passing blame does nothing to solve the problem. Instead, you’ll only paint yourself in a negative and self-serving manner — the complete opposite of what you want.

While this doesn’t mean you should keep secret any pertinent information you have regarding the problem, you also don’t need to wrap a particular person up in a bow and affix them to a bull’s eye.

Referencing the person at fault isn’t necessary to solving the immediate problem, and if necessary at all, should be set to the side until a solution has been found. Dodging any assertions of blame helps you to avoid looking like you’re stepping on another employee to make yourself look good. Plus, you’ll protect your working relationships with all parties involved — including the idiot who ordered 200 bottles of pineapple juice instead of Pinot Grigio for the donor banquet.

3. Present problem-solving options

You’ll accomplish nothing if all you do is break bad news empty-handed. Options are necessary. To lessen the likelihood of being on the receiving end of reactionary insults, make sure to come with alternatives in hand.

You serve little purpose if all you can do is deliver stress-inducing updates. Research both cost- and time-effective alternatives and assess expected output so you can present options to your employer.

But keep in mind that offering effective solutions requires more than just a Google search and a few thrown-together spreadsheets. No solution can be implemented without employee energy, so assess the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of each potential solution. Take these actions to significantly reduce the time and cost of the mistake — and to simultaneously paint yourself as a proactive and strategic thinker.

 Breaking bad news is never easy, but reframing a negative situation into a positive opportunity for yourself can be beneficial both for you and your company.

The next time someone accidentally sends the salary listing for every employee in your company to every employee in your company, don’t fret. Get the whole story, be objective and come with a solution in hand.

Sarah Colomé, M.S. is an educator, advocate and the SOARS Booking Director for A Long Walk Home, Inc. Based in Chicago, Sarah has traveled both nationally and internationally as a competitive collegiate public speaker and teaches on topics related to social justice and diversity, health education, sexual violence and persuasive speaking. Follow her on Twitter @sarahcolome.

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