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Career Advice: Never Surprise The Boss With Bad News

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You are certain to hit patches of bad news as you travel your career path. Don't make bad matters worse by trying to pretend it doesn't exist or to hide it.

It is a cardinal sin to permit your boss and the organization to be caught unaware by bad news.

No organization escapes bad news forever. Budgets are not met. Deliveries are late. Equipment doesn't work. People foul up.

Job Tip: It is essential to your career success to learn how to deliver bad news, as well as how to receive it.

There are at least four major things wrong with failing to blow the whistle when you see bad news coming. Be aware of them as you strive to reach your career goals.

First, ignoring bad news won't make it go away. It's bound to surface sooner or later, probably at the worst possible time.

Second, most problems can be fixed, wholly or in part, if addressed soon enough.

Third, left unattended, most problems simply get bigger and more difficult with time.

Fourth, when you fail to report the bad news, you are leaving your boss vulnerable to being blindsided with a problem and the accusation from his boss that he doesn't have control of his organization.

You Probably Won't Be A Hero when you bring bad news, no matter who's at fault. Your are likely to take some hits and bruises; whistleblowers are not popular. In ancient times, kings cut off the heads of messengers who brought bad news.

There is really no easy way to report bad news; however, you can take some steps to help diffuse the situations and ease the pain.

? Have all of the facts in hand. Report them succinctly; no dodging and ducking.

? Be patient; let the boss vent his or her anger and frustration.

? Offer a solution, or at least some way to cut the losses.

? Don't be defensive. If you are to blame, take the heat yourself; don't try to lay it off on others. However, if a group of which you are a part is at fault be sure you report in the "we" mode. Try to depersonalize the matter as much as possible.

? Be sure to make a practice of reporting good news, too. Avoid being identified as one who always bears ill tidings.

How To Receive Bad News

Career Tip: Just as it is important to quickly and accurately report bad news, it is necessary to know how to handle bad news that is reported to you.

? Stay calm and collected when an associate reports bad news to you. If you have a reputation of blowing up when such reports are made, you discourage the flow of information that is necessary to function as a leader.

? Don?t go off half-cocked. Gather all the facts: who, what, when, where, why? Define the extent of the problem as quickly as you can. Assess the damage. And doublecheck your information.

? Initiate damage control asap.

? Report the situation to your boss in the same fashion as you expect to be reported to. If you have be able to clear up the problem, report it anyway. Get credit for handling the matter without taking up his time.

If you have not been able to eliminate the problem, explain the steps you have already taken to prevent further damage, along with your recommendations for eliminating the cause of the problem.

Hopefully, you are working for an organization where the messenger gets shot only if he's late with the bad news.

To get more common sense career advice on how to protect and advance your career during tough times, sign up at for a free subscription to Ramon Greenwood's widely read e-newsletter and participate in his blog. He coaches from a successful career as Senior VP at American Express, author of career-related books, and a senior executive/consultant in Fortune 500 companies.

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Ramon Greenwood
Career Development
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