Monday, August 24, 2015

How to Deliver Bad News to the Boss -- and Survive

One of the toughest things to do in your career is to make that long, long walk into your boss's office and tell her that you're not going to make a deadline.

If you're very, very lucky, the boss may respond with "That's OK." But if you don't have such a boss, you may get a) a frown b) yelled at c) a frown, yelling and perhaps a stinging rebuke that will go into your personnel file.

Is there any way to minimize the chances of getting a nasty memo and a very loud verbal reprimand?

The good news is "yes." The not-so-good news is that it means you've got to put yourself in the boss's shoes and figure out what she will accept and what she will not. Get it wrong, and you can pretty much forget about keeping the verbal or written reprimands out of the picture.

Let's begin by imagining you've got a big report due Friday. You realize, however, there is no way you're going to get it done, not if you swig Starbucks 24/7 and never shower or sleep.

There is no way you can put off telling the boss about the situation. Still, there are ways to go about sharing such news that may keep you from totally sinking your career. Think about:

  •  Starting with a positive fact. No one likes to have bad news dumped in her lap like yesterday's garbage. So, begin the conversation concisely -- but positively. "Jill, I've been working on the report that is due Friday and have made some great progress. I've found some terrific research to support our project, and also interviewed two national experts who have given me additional information that really lend an authoritative voice to the information."

  •  Getting to the point. Once you've outlined the positive points (don't go on too long or the boss will wonder why you're bothering her and start to get annoyed) then it's time to rip off the Band-Aid. "However, I'm still going through statistics and analyses that are quite lengthy. It's a very time-consuming process, which means I'm going to need additional time." Try to be specific with how much time you need -- two days or two weeks? It's best if you can show the boss you've really thought through your problems and are within site of a solution.

  •  Ending with a positive fact. This is where you need to explain to the boss clearly and concisely how you're dealing with the issue. "I believe I can finish this sooner if I can ask Susan to use her expertise in statistics to help me weed out the information I don't need and just focus on the key data. I would need her to help me Wednesday and Thursday, and she tells me she can clear her schedule to do this."

Anytime you have to approach a boss with bad news -- a missed deadline or an angry customer -- make sure you've thought it through so that you can present the boss with what you're doing to solve the problem. That will go a long way toward easing the boss's stress and any concern about your abilities.

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