The White-Glove Approach to Giving Bad News

Updated: Jun 19, 2020

Years ago, I read a book called How to Talk to Anyone by Leil Lowndes. In a book purge - they're taking over my house - I’m skimming it again chapter by chapter, and I came across a section relevant to our daily work.

In this chapter, Leil focuses on the thoughtfulness and empathy required when delivering unfortunate news - for our team this is frequently a delay in shipment, the unavailability of a discount or a rebooking charge for a missed tour.

Leil gives several examples of thoughtless responses in the book. Once Leil and a friend had packed a picnic lunch and were happily walzing out the door when her neighbor, rocking away on his porch, looked up at the sky and with a big smile said, “Oh boy, bad day for a picnic. The newscaster says it’s going to rain.” His mismatched delivery grated on Leil's nerves and permanently affected their neighborly relationship.

In another example, Leil was racing to catch a bus. As she rushed towards the ticket window, the sales agent laughed, “Oh that bus left five minutes ago.”

Leil says: “It’s not the news that makes someone angry. It’s the unsympathetic attitude with which it’s delivered. Everyone must give bad news from time to time, and winning professionals do it with the proper attitude. A doctor advising a patient she needs an operation does it with compassion. A boss informing an employee he didn’t get the job takes on a sympathetic demeanor. Grief counselors at airports after fatal crashes share the grief-stricken sentiments of relatives. Winners know, when delivering any bad news, they should share the sentiment of the receiver.”

She goes on to say: “Had my neighbor told me of the impending rainstorm with sympathy, I would have appreciated his warning. Had the bus agent sympathetically informed me that my bus had already left, I probably would have said, “Oh that’s all right, I’ll catch the next one.” Winners, when they bear bad news, deliver bombs with the emotion the bombarded person is sure to have.”

We know from our HigherRing training, the truth of this, and we also take the next step to offer alternatives.

“Here’s what I CAN do.”

“Would you like the blue one instead?”

“I have another great option. Can I show you?”

We don’t overdo it but we definitely take the likely emotion into account when delivering bad news and then we work hard to find a happy solution for our clients’ customers.