286 - The Art of Delivering Bad News - John Laurito
Episode 286 - The Art of Delivering Bad News | Tomorrow's Leader Podcast with John Laurito

286 – The Art of Delivering Bad News

No matter what your role is, you’ve probably had to deliver some form of bad news before. Today host John Laurito talks about the importance of good communication skills in giving bad news to anyone. Delivering bad news is something that we all have to do at some point. By learning how to deliver bad news honestly, openly, and empathetically, you can help preserve your relationships rather than damage them.

[0:00] Intro

[0:47] Storytime!

[8:49] There’s a way to deliver bad news, and this was not it

[12:00] Be empathetic and clearly express the problem

[15:39] Do not over-promise

[17:00] Outro

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John Over the last two decades, I’ve been on an insatiable quest to learn everything I can about leadership. What makes the best leaders so good? After running companies small and large over the last 20 years, today I speak on stages all across the world to audiences who are interested in that same question. My name is John Laurito. I’m your host, and I invite you to join me on this journey as we explore this very topic and what makes the best leader so good. Welcome to tomorrow’s leader. 

John Hey now! How’s that for a new opening of the show. All right. Welcome to today’s episode of Tomorrow’s Leader, where we dove deep into all things leader related to leading yourself and leading other times to your host. It’s the fastest intro ever. Okay. So a couple of things I want to talk to you about today. I just got back from a trip earlier this week on Tuesday. Great, great trip. Just lots of really cool stuff that happened. Lots of working with the client. And I got a chance to present to a board of directors and get a chance to do a presentation, get a chance to meet with a bunch of great people, and get a chance to join my friend on a TV show that she hosts Loriann Draco. So thank you for having me on. That was a lot of fun. 

John And I was flying back this was from Philly airport on Tuesday. And my flight was I think it was 730 at night, something like that. So got a chance to connect with some great friends beforehand. So all is good. I get a text from American Airlines saying that they ask you if you want to be notified of any flight updates. And of course, yeah, here’s my text message, which now you have full access to. Text me whatever you want, whenever you want. And I get a text saying your flight has been delayed, a new departure time. Actually, it doesn’t even say delayed. What they actually say is whoops, let me pull it up here. 

John It just says flight 2493 from Philadelphia, departure time changed to 8:00. So it gets changed from 730 to 8. All right. No big deal. Whatever you little more time hanging out with my friends. That’s great. So then I get another one about half an hour later. Same verbiage. Flight 2493 from Philadelphia. Departure time is changed. 830. Like, Okay, this is not moving in a good direction. Then another half hour goes by getting the same thing. Flight 2493 from Philadelphia departure time change to 9:00. Because that’s how the text actually sounds. If you envision a voice behind it and I’m like, Oh shit, what is happening? I get another one that says Flight 2493 from Philadelphia, departure time change two 930. I’m like, what? And now I’m really now it’s 2 hours of flight 930, seven, 30, 930. 

John First of all, it’s four delays. I mean, can’t you predict some degree like, okay, what’s happening here? I mean, do you need a plane? Do you need a crew? What’s the deal? And do you have to keep delaying this thing four times? Well, I finally get to the airport. I think I get to the airport at 830 because I don’t have any bags to check-in. And I’m Uber in there and I have a car. And so I get there at 834, 930 flight. I walk into the airport and I find I get another one of these that says Flight 2493. Your Philadelphia departure time is changed to 11:30 p.m. 1130 what from 930. What? What now what? How does this happen? It ended up so. First of all, here’s my beef. Number one, these text messages, somebody is programing these text messages, right? You’re writing the language, so why not at least write a little bit more empathetic a text? Our apologies. 

John We are sorry for your inconvenience. Your flight, unfortunately, has been delayed to a new time. Please, we appreciate your patience. Something like that. I would have felt a little better with that. Other than Flight 2493 from Philadelphia, a departure time changed. It’s just such an empathetic text. All right. Okay. Maybe I’m overreacting and being a big baby, but, you know, I’m paying money. I’m paying a lot of money for these flights, like, at least. And I got a choice. I don’t know if I’m on an airline, but I’m going to at least put a little empathy into these text messages. So especially when they’re something like that. But any of that. All right. No small part of the problem. So 1130 now, it’s now almost 9:00. I go to the airport, I’m like, all right, well, I’ll go hang out in the lounge or whatever. And it turns out the lounge is in a whole different area of the airport. Go to the Centurion Lounge. And for American Express in a whole different area of the airport, it closes at nine American Express. 

John Why would you close your Centurion Lounge at nine at night on a Tuesday? You got a lot of travelers that are there and now flights are being delayed like this. Why not at least make it 10:00. Okay, I just need a comfortable place to chill out. Whatever. Grab a bite, grab a drink, whatever. I just, I. So, anyway, I realize that’s. That’s not going to happen. I go to this terminal, and I realize every food place. I’m starving. I mean, I am absolutely famished. I am starving. And I realize every food place is closing at 9:00. I’m just looking for a place to sit down because I’m not going to obviously I’m going to have a lot of time. So I go past all these fast food places and I’m looking for a restaurant. I get all the way to the restaurants. They’re closed. It’s like 845 and I’m like, What? That I go back to all these food places. I finally, after chasing down all these spots, found one little pizza place and ordered an actually, I ordered two slices of pizza and a cheesesteak. 

John That’s how hungry I was. Not the best, most nutritious meal, but that’s what I ordered. So anyway, that’s not the most exciting part of the story. It’s not even an exciting story, but there’s a point to this story. So we finally get to the gate. It’s now 1130. Everybody’s really cranky. We’ve been sitting there for hours. We just want to get on the plane. It’s like 11:00, 1110. They’re not boarding the plane. There is no plane. I could see outside. There’s no plane. So what is the deal? Nobody’s getting on the loudspeaker. Nobody’s saying anything. And it’s like 11, 15, 11, 20. And I see I’ve now gone to the other gate, next gate because there’s nowhere to set. It’s too crowded. The plane was going to be packed. And I see this horde of people around a lady and I’m like, What’s going on here? And I get a little closer and I’m trying to see and apparently, it’s one of the gate agents talking about what the problem is. So talking about what the problem is. And in her hand is a microphone in her hand. In her right hand is a microphone. Yet she is choosing not to broadcast this message. 

John She’s talking in what she might have considered to be a loud voice to 100-something people that are all around and nobody can hear anything. I’m standing there trying to listen. I’m asking people, Wait a sec, what did she just say? What’s going on? And by the way, you can hear right outside my window, we’ve got landscapers here. I’ve got to figure out Friday afternoon, somebody reminds me next time. Friday afternoons are not the best time to do podcasts because I’ve got the guy out there doing the lawn, which I greatly, greatly appreciate. But I hope you that doesn’t interfere and you can’t hear that. But anyway, I can. So but bottom line so she is a nobody can understand anything she is saying she’s communicating it really like talking. She’s got a microphone in her hand and I’m having to ask all these people, what did she just say? I missed the whole thing. 

John What did she say? They’re like, I don’t know. I don’t know. I had to ask five or six people before I found somebody who said, well, she said, they’re looking for a flight crew. I’m like, They found the plane. The plane’s on its way looking for the flight. I’m like, You got to be kidding me. Make a long story short as I’m departing because I’m like, okay, in about 5 minutes, there’s going to be a massive rush of 200 people looking for a hotel room in an Uber. So let me beat the rush. I start leaving. I see the flight crew coming toward me and I’m ready to give them a big hug. So the bottom line is they end up, you know, coming. They find the plane we get on. Get off the ground, probably 130 in the morning, and get home at three in the morning. Fun stuff. 

John But here’s the thing. Here’s the message, okay? Many people and I see this with leaders a lot of times nobody loves to deliver a tough message. Nobody wants to deliver bad news. But there’s a way to do it and there’s a way not to do it. This was clearly not the way to do it. One is, you know, she didn’t obviously want to share the nest, the message, the news. So she chose to not use the microphone, which all that did was exacerbate the situation and made people that were frustrated, more frustrated because they couldn’t hear her. They couldn’t understand people in tough, frustrating times and tough situations. They want and need communication. There’s nothing more important than communication. And if it’s a particularly bad message and tough news, bad news, tough message, it’s extremely important to communicate it in the most personal way you possibly can in person. 

John Face to face is best if you can’t a in a video conference where you’re seeing somebody whose face is much better than just a phone call or a phone call is better than a text message or an email. But realize the most impersonal that you can make it the better. That’s important. People need to see your eyes. Number one, they’re comforted by somebody’s face. They’re comforted by you, the vision of you as the leader. But if you’ve got bad news, look, people in the eye communicate clearly and loudly enough so people can understand the message, can see leaders that just shy away. This is more figurative, but it’s also literal that they don’t grab the microphone, so to speak, and they’re not communicating loudly because they know it’s a tough message or they delay communicating it. 

John Now, I remember as an adviser, there were times where I had clients that when we were doing insurance, they got raided, for example, or declined, which is really bad news because it’s not just about their premiums going up or them not getting the coverage they want. It’s more particular. It’s more important. It’s a health issue. It’s something they have going. There’s a reason they got declined. There’s a major health problem with them and they may not even know it. Talk about bad news. That’s really tough. Now, there were times when I delayed telling them because I didn’t even know how to tell them I was uncomfortable. I didn’t want to do it. And I was like, okay, I’ll do it tomorrow. And then tomorrow is the next day. And then they would call me and say, John, we got a letter from the insurance company. 

John What happened here and why did we find out that way? How come you didn’t tell us? Now it’s on me, right? Because I’m the leader in that situation. I communicate the message. This gate agent should have picked up the microphone, been loud, communicate, and communicated clearly. The way to do it is in communicate empathy. Right. If you get on that loudspeaker and you say, hey, just want to hear any update, we don’t have a plane and we don’t have a crew. So, you know, we’re going to I’m not sure what time it’s going to be. I don’t know. I have no idea. I’m off my shift in a little bit. So somebody will be here to help you, so they’ll tell you. All right. So you have a good night like that. All that’s going to do is get people really riled up, right. So the key thing is be empathetic and express clearly what the problem is, what is the issue and what’s happened. Be truthful. Be authentic, be transparent. 

John And here’s what I am doing about it or here’s what we’re doing about it. So here’s the problem and here’s what we are doing to try and solve the problem. Okay. Or if it’s not a problem to necessarily solve, here’s what happened, or here’s the decision we made, and here’s the next step. Here’s what’s going to happen next. People need to understand that now. You know, I talk about this with leaders all the time, that people are never going to. Not everybody is going to like it. The decision you make as a leader, you have to make tough decisions that are not going to please everybody all the time. But as long as you’re authentic and clear and transparent and you share with them the rationale behind that, hey, we had the increased costs on this. We made this decision to do this. And here’s the reason why we made the decision. You may not like it. You may not agree with it, but we want you to understand it. 

John That’s the language I would use, literally. You may not like it. You may not even agree with it. But we want and it’s very important that you at least understand how we arrived at the decision. I want you to understand the rationale that we used or I used to make this decision. I know, and I’m not looking for necessarily everybody to agree with it, but I am looking for your support and understanding as an organization, as part of this organization, not necessarily looking for you to agree with it, but I do want you to understand it and support it as being part of this organization. Now, that’s fair, right? If I’m part of the organization and my leader said. That would make sense to me. And I would appreciate I might not like the news, but I would certainly appreciate it. Now, what I found is that I did not explain the rationale for a decision and how we came to this decision. Most people made up their own answers. 

John They created their own narrative. And it was worse than reality. Right. The picture they paint painted was. It was, you know. Well, they just want more money in their pocket or they’re just already earning a lot of money. They want to earn more money or they want to make our lives more difficult. Do they? Whatever. And it’s not the case. There was actually a tangible reason why. So as leaders, be really careful when you’re delivering a tough message or bad news. Again, be clear. Be empathetic and know how disruptive this is to you. And it is not our intent to do this to create disruption or unneeded disruption. But here’s why we had to do this. Or we felt we needed to do this and do it now. Okay, let’s explain the backdrop behind this. And then what you’re going to have is people again, they’re going to be more receptive than they would have been. And the trust level is enhanced and built significantly. It’s significant. 

John Some of the most trusting environments and cultures are still organizations where there’s a lot of disruption or issues or problems or whatnot, but there’s still a lot of trusts there. And it’s because the communication is so high, frequent, clear, and empathetic. It’s two ways. It’s not just one-way communication. Communication is so important. So any event a little longer than I wanted to go on this episode, but kind of an interesting story, it just made me think of the importance of this, the art of delivering bad news. And by the way, don’t overpromise either. If you’re not clear and you’re not sure that that plane is going to be there and a half an hour, say that, you know if it’s a 20% chance that it’s going to be there and a half an hour, don’t say it’s going to be there in a half an hour. Say, hey, it looks like it will be you no longer. 

John It will be for an hour. It might be an hour and a half. We’re hopeful that it will get here and half an hour. We’ll keep you posted then. When it gets there in a half an hour, it’s like, okay, that’s now great news, right? So there’s a right way and a wrong way. So anyway, I hope this got the wheels turning. I know you’re sitting on some news that you got to deliver to somebody that you’re leading. Don’t wait. Don’t delay. Follow what I just told you. I promise you, it will turn the tide. It will make this a better situation than it would have been otherwise. You might end up coming out of this with even a more trustful relationship and have this person and even or this organization even a better place than you might have even thought, despite the level of significance of the news. 

John So if you need some help with it, I’m here for you. Reach out to me directly. Other than that, you know the deal, like, share, subscribe, all that kind of good stuff. Let me know your ideas on future guests, and future topics as you have been. I greatly appreciate that. And go down below. Give a five-star review and we’ll see you next time. Thanks, everybody. 

John Thanks for joining us on today’s episode of Tomorrow’s Leader for suggestions or inquiries about having me at your next event or personal coaching, reach me at John@johnlaurito.com. Thanks, lead on! 

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