When delivering a bad news to someone, why shouldn't we show empathy at the beginning?

When delivering a bad news to someone, why shouldn't we show empathy at the beginning?

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I've been preparing for a job as a customer service agent recently and there's a common topic called "delivering bad news". A bad news can be a delay in order or a delayed payment on the customer's side.

As an example, if I wanted to say that the order wasn't arriving tomorrow as scheduled, but would arrive 3 days later, I would say: "I'm terribly sorry to tell you that, but due to unexpectedly many orders in recent days, your order won't arrive tomorrow, it will arrive in 4 days". But, surprisingly, the tutorials instruct to say: "Due to unexpectedly many orders in recent days, your order won't arrive tomorrow, it will arrive in 4 days". What is more, in one video the speaker said explicitly that we shouldn't tell about being sorry at this point. We should apologise after it if it was company's fault. We shouldn't tell about being sorry at all if it wasn't company's fault; we should do it only after the customer has commented negatively (has shown anger or disappointment) on the bad news.

Surprisingly, I watched equivalents of these tutorials in the medical environment. The doctors should do exactly the same! They don't say "I'm very sorry, but we diagnosed lungs cancer", they just say "We diagnosed lungs cancer". It was a shock to me. Just like customer service agents, they show empathy only later, after the patient's reaction.

I don't understand why taking care about the listener's emotions at the point of delivering a bad news is inadvisable. Could you help me understand it?

The short answer - TLDR

The answer to this question within the field of psychology will depend on the psychological approach the answerer is affiliated to.

In short, while a certain amount of empathy is required in both the 2 main lines of thought - after-all, how are you going to be an effective therapist without it? - the way it is to be shown is down to opinion really, and that opinion will drive the policies regarding "I'm sorry… " responses.

With regard to your job as a customer service representative/agent, if you don't want to have problems with your superiors, you should follow the protocol laid down by your employers.

If you feel a different approach should be adopted, maybe you could approach your line-manager for consideration.

With regard to other situations, it is down to opinion.

The full answer

Note: In my answer, there will be talk of therapists and clients. Where the therapist is referenced, this applies to anyone in a position of trust such as a doctor, dentist, customer service representative/manager etc.

There are 2 main approaches in psychology - Psychodynamic and Person-Centered

The Psychodynamic Approach started by Sigmund Freud

As pointed out by Jane Holder (2013), this approach to psychology involves analysis of resistance through ego-defence mechanisms, along with transference and counter-transference as described by Stephanie Cobb for the British Psychological Society (BPS, 2015):

Transference has been defined as 'the client's experience of the therapist that is shaped by his or her own psychological structures and past', often involving 'displacement onto the therapist, of feelings, attitudes and behaviours belonging rightfully to earlier significant relationships' (Gelso & Hayes, 1998, p.11). Countertransference describes the therapist's reaction to the client in terms of both feelings and behaviour.

A psychodynamic theorist will talk about psychological detachment requirements with regard to transference and counter-transference so will advocate total compartmentalisation to separate the lived experiences of the client and the therapist from each other.

The bottom line with the psychodynamic approach is

  • You must only relay the facts pertaining to the situation
  • The client's experience(s) are not yours to own to convey, and you should not be sharing your feelings about the situation with them either.

The downside of the psychodynamic approach

This approach can be seen to be very cold and stand-offish leading to possible feelings of resentment towards the therapist, which can be unnoticed by the therapist due to the detachment with the client's "here and now".

The Person-centered approach started by Carl Rogers

Again, Jane Holder (2013) covers this:

The person-centred approach focuses on the belief that we are all born with an innate ability for psychological growth if external circumstances allow us to do so. Clients become out of touch with this self-actualising tendency by means of introjecting the evaluations of others and thereby treating them as if they were their own.

[In therapeutic environments] As well as being non-directive the counselling relationship is based on the core conditions of empathy, congruence and unconditional positive regard.

A person-centered theorist will talk about the need for these core conditions, and therefore will advocate empathy and concern for the client's current well-being. This is sharing the fact that while you still don't pass your feelings about their situation to the client as the experience is not your own, you pass on that you feel sorry for how they are feeling.

The downside of the person-centered approach

As a therapist, you can be so invested in your client's here and now, that you can suffer from too much empathy.

So what SHOULD you do?

In answer to your question with regard to your job, no matter whether your job is a customer service representative/agent or something else, if you don't want to have problems with your superiors, you should follow the protocol laid down by your employers.

If you feel a different approach should be adopted, maybe you could approach your line-manager for consideration.

With regard to other situations, it is down to opinion.

With the fact that psychodynamic approach can be cold and the person-centered approach can lead to excessive empathy in play, a more balanced approach can be employed. That's where the integrative approach comes in.

The Integrative Approach

An integrative theorist will be somewhere in between. As the name suggests, the integrative approach is

a combined approach to psychotherapy that brings together different elements of specific therapies. Integrative therapists take the view that there is no single approach that can treat each client in all situations. Rather, each person needs to be considered as a whole and counselling techniques must be tailored to their individual needs and personal circumstances.

Integrative counselling maintains the idea that there are many ways in which human psychology can be explored and understood - no one theory alone holds the answer. All theories are considered to have value, even if their foundational principles contradict each other - hence the need to integrate them.

With an integrative approach, you can be more psychodynamic when dealing with trauma for example and more person-centered with news of a death in the family. This is so that you can separate yourself from the emotional and empathic elements of dealing with the trauma whilst still having empathy for the client in their current situation.


BPS. (2015). What passes between client and therapist? The Psychologist 28(7) 600-603.

Gelso, C. J. & Hayes, J. A. (1998). The Psychotherapy Relationship: Theory, Research, and Practice. New York: Wiley.

Holder, J. B. (2013). The main counselling approaches: What are they? Counselling Directory

The meaning of bad news management for managers: an explorative research through metaphors

It is a known reality that managers often encounter bad news, and this study explores the question “What is the perspective of managers on bad news management?” in the context of a developing country with rapidly changing conditions. To answer this question, in-depth interviews were conducted with 32 top and middle managers. The results reveal two root metaphors about bad news management in managers’ minds. Managers focus on the past with the “lesson” metaphor and focus on the future with the “opportunity” metaphor. While managing bad news, they draw meaningful inferences from prior experiences and thus become careful and ready. After managing bad news, they have new opportunities to make their organization more mature, developed, and recovered.

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The Best Power Words and Phrases to Use in Customer Service

We investigate the most common power words and phrases, while also drawing attention to those which help to add value to contact centre conversations.

What Are Power Words?

Power words are words that we use in conversations to provoke a certain feeling from the person that we are talking to.

Power words are words that we use in conversations to provoke a certain feeling from the person that we are talking to.

These words are often used by people who work in fields such as marketing and copywriting, as many can be used as tools for persuasion. This also means that they can be good to use in customer service, to positively influence customer emotions.

So let’s take a look at some common examples of power words before focusing on those which can be really beneficial to use in the contact centre.

The 100 Most Common Power Words

Since 2015, in conjunction with our sister publication Presentation Magazine, we have been scanning popular news stories, articles and works of literature.

In doing so, we have scanned over 15 million words to determine their popularity by counting the frequency in which they are used.

So, let’s take a closer look at the top ten power words according to this list, and share an example of how advisors can embed them into their contact centre interactions.

Using the Top 10 Power Words in the Contact Centre

Here are the top ten power words, alongside an explanation of why they can be used to great effect in customer service conversations and a contact centre specific example.

1. Now

It is great to a reassure the customer of their query’s importance to your business and, to do this, it is good to provide them with a sense of immediacy. “Now” is a great power word to help you do so.

Power phrase example – “What I’m now doing to help you is…”

2. Great

We’ve all written an email in which we have to request something of somebody, but worry that we sound a little too demanding. In customer service writing, this feeling is multiplied.

So, using “great” in a sentence like the example below can help to alleviate any concerns that you might have.

Power phrase example – “It would be a great help if you could…”

3. Always

We want customers to feel confident in our ability to solve to solve their problem, so sometimes it is great to give them a guarantee, and “always” is the ideal power word for doing so.

Power phrase example – “What we can always do for you is…”

4. Really

Sometimes, we want to emphasize one key point and the power word “really” is great for doing this.

For instance, if you have to present two key options to a customer but believe that one is much better for them than the other, this power word can be a useful tool – if used just like in the example below.

Power phrase example – “The option that I think is really great is…”

5. Best

When a customer chooses to do business with us, we want to take away any hesitations that they may have. Using the word “best” helps to give the customer a little comfort that they are on the recommended plan/scheme.

Power phrase example – “Given your requirements, this is the best plan for you…”

6. Change

This can be a great word to use with an upset customer, after you’ve let them vent and shown empathy, because you are highlighting to them that you are immediately going to do something to remove the source of frustration.

Power phrase example – “Let’s make a change! As I solution, I suggest…”

7. Understand

We all recognize the importance of showing empathy in the contact centre and saying “I understand” can really help to lift a weight off the customer’s back.

It is particularly great if we draw on our own experiences beforehand, just like in the example below, to single ourselves out from the wider company and offer a more personalized experience.

Power phrase example – “I have experienced a similar problem recently, so I understand what you are saying.”

8. Real

If you are listing a number of key features, options or benefits of a product, using the word “real” before introducing a key item on the list, like in the example below, can really focus the customer’s attention on this one specific point.

Power phrase example – “The real benefit of this option is…”

9. Free

Everyone likes to get something for free. The word “free” therefore helps to spike our interest, as it signals that we, as the customer, might soon be offered something special.

Power phrase example – “What we do offer, as a free addition, is…”

10. Strong

“Strong” is a particularly good power word to use when describing something that the customer has done. It both helps to reassure the customer and emphasize that they have the “power” or control when it comes the final decision making.

Power phrase example – “I think that you’ve made a very strong choice.”

However, just because these are the most common power words, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t others that will work well in the contact centre space.

Two key examples of other power words that are well suited to the contact centre space include “something” and “willing”, as we discuss below.

Say “Something” Not “Anything”

Research from linguists who work at Loughborough University found that, particularly in the medical or retail fields, when someone asks: ‘Is there anything else I can do for you?’ that sounds more negative than saying: ‘Is there something else that I can help you with?’

When someone asks: ‘Is there anything else I can do for you?’ that sounds more negative than saying: ‘Is there something else that I can help you with?’

As Sandra Thompson, founder of Exceed All Expectations, says: “Not only does ‘something’ sound more positive, asking the question: ‘Is there anything else I can help you with?’ when you haven’t solved the original query, that’s not going to go down too well.”

So, if you have to ask this question, it is better to say: ‘Is there something else that I could help you with?’, as that will more likely lead to a more positive outcome.

The Word “Willing” Allows the Customer to Feel in Control

As a contact centre, we want to be speaking with calm customers who are fully in control of their situation. The power word “willing” can be a great tool to use to help them to get into this frame of mind.

Sandra adds: “This is all to do with making the customer perceive that you are putting the control with them in making their decision.”

“So instead of saying: ‘Do you think you could…?’, it’s better to say: ‘If you’re willing…?’, as that changes the emphasis and people respond far more positively.”

3 Tips to Best Use Power Words in the Contact Centre

We’ve introduced the 100 most popular power words, highlighted how they can be used in customer service and shared a couple of contact centre specific examples. But we are not quite done yet!

Before you start adding these power words and phrases into your scripts or asking advisors to try them out for themselves, please think about the following three things.

1. Certain Power Words May Not Be Appropriate in a Formal Context

Power words are great to emphasize our points in a friendly, informal setting. But when things get serious, it can be better to forget about power words and get straight to the point.

When it comes to bad news, customers want every guarantee that you’re taking the matter seriously, so a formal tone is more appropriate.

As Sandra says: “Generally customers prefer us to use informal language, as opposed to formal language, when we are talking to them. But if you’ve got a bit of bad news, being informal does not work.”

“When it comes to bad news, customers want every guarantee that you’re taking the matter seriously, so a formal tone is more appropriate.”

In these situations, we don’t want advisors to be thinking “What power word should I add in?” We want the team to be fully focused on the customer.

2. Consider Which Power Words Echo Your Values

Our approach to customer service will likely depend very much on the values of our brand and therefore our customers. This should also be reflected in our use of power words and phrases.

Brands will often have series of words and phrases that their advisors are highly likely to use, in respect to their sector and values.

Sandra says: “Brands will often have series of words and phrases that their advisors are highly likely to use, in respect to their sector and values.”

“As long as they are simple, understandable terms I think it’s only right that they are woven into all forms of communication, so we are providing the consistency that our customers expect.”

So, it’s great to be consistent with our use of power words and phrases, but – in terms of using brand-specific language – just beware of using cultural jargon, as it has the potential to confuse customers.

3. Use Power Words to Back Up Bad News

While we should not use power words when delivering bad news, they can be very useful in terms of turning a negative situation around.

Sandra adds: “If you have bad news, you should give it up front and follow that up with the good news, as this makes the conversation far more palatable for the customer.”

“To do otherwise would work against the laws of behavioural science, which suggest that the peak state of customer emotion should be a good feeling that people are left with.”

To find out more about the science behind customer emotions, read our article: 7 Steps to Evoke the Emotions You Want From Your Customers

In Summary

Power words are great to use in all forms of conversation to evoke certain feelings from the people that we speak to. This also means that they hold great significance in the contact centre.

With this in mind, it can be good practice to sprinkle power words into contact centre scripts, as a trial first of all to assess their impact, or to coach advisors to use them effectively.

However, before we consider doing either of these things, we should first think about when it is appropriate to use power words and which words and phrases best echo our brand values.

For more tips and strategies to better use of language in the contact centre, read our articles:

Published On: 24th Jul 2019 - Last modified: 27th Oct 2020
Read more about - Skills, Customer Service, Language, Positive words, Rapport

BA 1500 Final Exam Overview of Chapters

You need to see if others trust you before you can decide if you trust them.

In the business world, you often start from a deficit of trust.

Trust in business is at an all-time high so you need to match these standards.

Gaining credibility is the first step to getting ahead in your career.

performance issues in the workplace

the FAIR test in the workplace

a reputation for staying true to commitments made to stakeholders and adhering to high moral and ethical values

they assume it's standard practice

they rationalize that it's not a big deal

they say to themselves that it's not their responsibility

they fear retribution from the colleagues engaged in the unethical behavior

provide and enact a code of ethics.

create an ethics panel to review potential violations.

provide online ethics courses to employees.

have their code of ethics voted on by employees.

to examine how well you have provided the facts

to examine how well you have shown respect

to examine how well you have communicated persuasively

to examine how well you have examined impacts on stakeholders

less strategic less influential

more strategic more influential

higher quality more impactful

more I-centric more influential

ignore secondary audiences

eliminate the need for questions

read the message aloud before sending

keep secondary audiences in mind

relying heavily on the I-voice.

avoiding over-usage of the I-voice.

only using personal pronouns.

never using personal pronouns.

when the reader doesn't agree with your primary message

when you are required to write a message that you don't agree with

when the content of a message conflicts with the tone

when the content of the primary message changes midway through

assign blame for an issue

avoid blaming others or sounding bossy

main ideas will not stand out

audience will consider your writing as amateurish

key points will stand out

the thread of your main ideas will be lost

only one type of formatting

as many types of formatting as you can

complete at least three drafts.

read them aloud to yourself.

use more special formatting than you typically would.

proofreading and getting feedback.

getting feedback and defense.

writing a counterargument and defense.

provide a short descriptive subject line.

keep your message brief yet complete.

clearly identify expected actions.

avoid using attachments due to clutter.

you avoid using greetings and names.

you apply the same standards of spelling and punctuation as for written documents.

you use unusual formatting and fonts to make your message stand out.

you copy everyone in the company on every email.

neutrality effect and negativity effect

electronic noise and word volcanoes

cyber incivility and flames

All professionals agree that it is personal, fun, and helpful.

It is a good method of communication for making important decisions.

You should avoid rescheduling meeting times or places over IM.

It is the best method of work communication after work hours.

clearly ending the texting exchange.

establishing rules for use during meetings.

is not designed to multitask effectively.

processes information better in online formats.

processes information better in printed formats.

Reply immediately to every message you receive to avoid falling behind.

Try to complete most of your tasks through online communication.

Avoid unnecessarily lengthening an email chain.

Always keep message alerts turned on.

ignore conflict more easily.

resolve problems more quickly and connect more deeply.

work from home and reduce office politics.

avoid connecting with others on a personal level.

Follow up with colleagues in person.

Call your colleague a few hours later to confirm commitments.

Assign them extra commitments so you know at least some will get done.

Send colleagues a follow-up message within a few hours of the call.

formal work teams and projects with temporary teams

a replacement for formal meetings

formal communication with clients

a way to improve social relationships between colleagues

maintaining colleagues' social relationships.

keeping up with the Social Age.

effective public relations.

incorporating creativity in the workplace.

your company's reputation and performance

your social interactions offline

seek advice on social media use and review your company's policies.

have your supervisor review all of your blogs before you post them.

create social media profiles under a false alias.

They set unrealistic standards for future displays of gratitude.

They make the recipient feel too comfortable for the future, making them lazy.

They may come off as insincere and unprofessional.

They make other people jealous.

does not have any knowledge of the topic you're talking about.

is uninterested in hearing what you have to say.

does not think or feel the same way as you do.

creating a message structure that most effectively reduces resistance and gains buy-in

developing your ideas as you wrestle with the complicated business issues at hand

avoid indirect or implicit messages.

eliminate any call to action.

downplay the emotional benefits of products, services, and ideas.

They focus on promoting ideas.

They are based on logical appeals.

They tend to be more indirect and implicit.

They are shorter than internal messages.

attention: overview of a business problem

need: description of unmet needs or wants of your customers

solution: description of how your idea or policy addresses the business problem

rationale: elaboration about why your idea or policy is the best option

Consumers will immediately make a purchase.

They raise a company's brand awareness.

They explain why a company is better than its competitors.

They do not cost very much to produce.

They all utilize manipulation.

They shouldn't be reviewed by others before release as not to spoil their novelty.

They should be evaluated using the FAIR test.

You can control the message more carefully, delivering it precisely and accurately.

Your news will likely be received more warmly.

You can respond immediately if your news is misinterpreted.
You will never have to speak about the bad news.

increase the impact of the bad news

when the bad news is attributed to the wrong cause

when each level of an organization filters a message as it is passed along, yielding inaccurately stated bad news

when a colleague learns bad news from a third party rather than the original source

when someone juxtaposes a piece of bad news with good news as a distraction

About the Author

April Wensel is a veteran software engineer and technical leader who has given a lot of thought to tone over the course of a decade in tech. She’s been at startups, large companies, and research institutions in the fields of education, research, healthcare, and entertainment. She has also mentored and led workshops with diversity-focused organizations like Hackbright Academy and Black Girls Code.

Over the years, she has developed a suite of strategies for harnessing the power of kindness and compassion to build effective software development teams. She founded Compassionate Coding in order to share strategies with the wider community.

Understand the receiver’s inner dialogue

Feedback givers often have limited resources at their disposal to uncover how a receiver is processing information. Consequently, givers, and, more broadly, organizations may want to take a forward-looking approach by offering tools and training that facilitate transparency and reduce the likelihood that receivers discount feedback.

Tip No. 4: Use containment charts to give feedback, videos to train for feedback

Feedback givers can provide organizational tools to help minimize impulsive reactions and mitigate the likelihood that a receiver feels like feedback is either a personal attack or simply off-base.

Feedback containment charts can be helpful (see figure 2) to address the first issue. 23 This tool forces receivers to face their own monsters by answering two questions: “What is this feedback about?” and “What isn’t this feedback about?”.

In other words, if the boss critiques a subordinate college professor about publishing 50 percent fewer articles than others in his peer group, the answer to the question, “What is this feedback about?” could be that the professor is not as productive as he could be regarding publishing his work.On the other hand, “I am not a good researcher, I can’t write well, and I’m not a valued team member” would fall into the category of “what this feedback isn’t about.” Especially for formal feedback sessions, organizations may encourage their feedback receivers to use a containment chart since it forces a dispassionate assessment of the feedback, providing better balance and a higher likelihood of future appropriate action. Furthermore, for feedback givers, containment charts offer a direct view into the inner dialogue of receivers. Similar to reacting to micro expressions, givers can use this information to appropriately adjust their conversations.

Leaders can also develop training to help both givers and receivers reduce the likelihood of falling victim to the FAE. One promising method was brought to light by research in which people were videotaped while receiving and responding to feedback. Subsequently, when they watched themselves on the recording, they had a tendency to dissociate and literally see themselves as different people. This view provided a more balanced way to listen to the feedback, making them more susceptible to change. 24

While not always practical to record live feedback sessions, you can practice providing and receiving feedback in recorded training sessions. And when training, be sure to also record a normal, low-stakes conversation with your partner beforehand. This will allow both givers and receivers to compare dialogue and nonverbal behavior, during both pre- and post-coaching moments.

The Middle-Management Pickle

Middle management is a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t position. Stuck in the middle, you’re responsible for managing down to your reports, out to customers and clients, and up to your superiors. When it comes to delivering bad news, you’re the messenger most likely to be shot. There’s also the two-tiered pull of relying on your staff’s performance to deliver revenue, which puts you at the mercy of the higher-ups. But being the pickle in the middle also provides you with the opportunity to pack some serious crunch.

Middle management doesn’t have to be forever, and you can take a step back and create a strategy to move higher up the company food chain. The trick to success is multi-layered, a combination of strategic management, savvy decision-making and plain old leadership. So don’t be a floppy pickle. Here are some tips to refocus on your job so you can take control of the middle:

1.) Change your attitude. It’s very easy to get caught up in the whining and complaining that surrounds you. You might be hearing colleagues — other middle managers — grumbling about their employees, their bosses, their customers and the daily news, but engaging in toxic grousing and gossip will only hurt your career and make your days miserable. Shield yourself.

While you want to show empathy and maintain good relations with those you work with, take every opportunity to elevate the conversation by bringing a positive voice or changing the topic. No one likes a Pollyanna. Approach every day and every interaction in problem-solving mode rather than in defeatist mode. You’ll keep yourself and your team motivated and upbeat.

2.) Act like a business owner. At the end of the day, you are running your own business, and that business is you. Being hired by your employer is no different than being hired as an outside vendor to do the same work. Open your mind to treating your department and your team as your own small business.

If your department belonged to you, you would feel accountable for ensuring the enterprise’s success. You would manage your client and customer relationships differently. And you would probably empower your employees more to keep them happy, engaged and generating as much revenue for your business as possible. Even if your paycheck was small, you would sacrifice, knowing that someday the payoff would come. You would manage it all because it would be worth it to you. So, why don’t you do the same as a middle manager?

3.) Treat your boss like your best client. You might feel like your boss gives you a hard time or that no matter what you do, you can’t make her happy. Too bad. You can’t control how your manager behaves. But you can stop thinking of her as someone who watches over you, tells you what to do and holds all the cards of your career. That’s true only if you let her.

You have the right to find another client, or you can figure out how to better serve this one. That means making sure you communicate effectively with your bosses to better understand their priorities and expectations and that you over-deliver wherever possible.

4.) Craft your own management style. Your boss treating you like a minion doesn’t make it OK to do the same to those who report to you. The best middle managers create a positive, supportive culture for their teams despite any mistreatment they get from above. They create a buffer between staff and whatever might be rolling down from above. That’s called leadership.

5.) Stop thinking this is a turf war. Middle managers often get in the way of productivity because they get hung up on protecting their turf. What most of them fail to realize is that by trying to keep their jobs, they risk losing everything. There is a push in some industries and companies to eliminate middle managers altogether because they are expensive to employ and are an organizational layer some companies don’t need. Holding on to your franchise for dear life at the detriment of your team is not going to protect you.

6.) Open your eyes. Given the nature of where you sit on the organizational ladder, middle managers often lose sight of what’s going on around them. It’s easy to lose perspective when you feel like you’re trying to keep everyone happy. You never will, so just do what you think is best for your team while staying open to what you can do better for the organization as a whole.

Keep track of the details and shed any myopic views of your company. Think of the entire wheel, not just the spoke your team represents.

7.) Delegate and support. Remember, you are not judged on the work you do — you are judged on the performance of your employees and the results of your team. But that does not mean you shouldn’t roll up your sleeves and help when your team is understaffed or in need of support. Doing so will also allow you to remember what it was like on the front line, and you will have a better understanding of how to manage your team when you know the challenges they face on a day-to-day basis. It will also show your employees that you work alongside them rather than above them.

8.) Listen more than you talk. No one ever learned anything by talking. The best leaders always prefer to listen rather than speak. When dealing with your managers, pay attention to their needs and pain points so you’ll know what to deliver and how. When dealing with your employees, it’s best to listen so that you know what they need to best get the job done. Sure, your employees must heed your direction, but if you want to be a true leader, shut up and listen. It will put you in a better position to make the right decisions.

9.) Communicate. While you may feel that upper management fails at communication, it doesn’t mean you should follow their lead. Employees perform better when they know the purpose of their labor and when they are kept in the loop of what’s going on above them. Sure, there will be sensitive or confidential information that you are required by your bosses to keep to yourself, but most things you probably can share. Furthermore, honest and ongoing feedback gives staff the opportunity to improve their performance. Use open communication as a way to create a culture that encourages your team to thrive, which will allow you to as well.

10.) Learn to work with what you’ve got. Budgets matter. For your career, how you manage your budget is vital. Yes, many problems take more people and added resources in order to find a solution, but those elements are almost never easy to come by. So improvise. That could mean changing some job functions of your employees, working harder and smarter, and getting creative with problem solving. Limit costs as much as possible, and triage your workflow to make sure you are spending the most time and effort on customers or programs that have the promise of delivering the highest revenue. By giving yourself a reputation for working within your means — and by treating your company’s resources as if they were your own — you are sure to move up the ladder.

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The Future

“Computer programming is a human activity…and yet…many people — many programmers — have never considered programming in this light.”

Gerald Weinberg wrote that back in 1971, and unfortunately, it is still too often the case. I think the time has come to give communication in engineering the attention it deserves.

We may be skilled engineers who love building beautiful masterpieces of software, but can we also be kind, compassionate people who support each other and inspire each other with our words in both spoken and written communication?

I envision a brighter future for tech, where we ditch the toxic tone in all of its varieties and instead embrace a tone that is positive, humble, hopeful, clear, and inviting — inviting because, as we know, we’re going to need many more engineers and other contributors to build all that we want to build.

As Fran Allen says of engineering in her Coders at Work interview:

“It’s such a transformative field for society as a whole. And without the involvement of a diverse group of people, the results of what we do are not going to be appealing or useful to all aspects of our society.”

So, in the interest of progress, let’s not scare anyone away with needless, ego-driven negativity.

Want to learn more about effective communication on software teams? We offer workshops and private coaching on emotional intelligence for engineers. Let’s talk!

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3. Effective, Empathetic, Continuous Communication

According to Jarie Bolander of JSY PR & Marketing, the sit-down isn’t even the place to drop the bad tidings. “No surprises. Any and all bad news should be communicated before a meeting. The meeting should be the place to figure out how to resolve the issue.

This becomes easier if you’re constantly addressing a project and its changes, says Mark Armstrong of Mark Armstrong Illustration “Tip for reporting the bad news: never try to blame circumstances, bad luck, or anyone else accept responsibility, apologize, and lay out your plan for correcting the situation.” More importantly: “Provide regular status reports that include unforeseen developments, unexpected problems, delays, etc, and any other signs of trouble brewing. By keeping people informed, you at least prevent bad news from coming as a shock. The first rule of business: no surprises.”

Alexander Porter of Search It Local points out that a little grace can go a long way in these situations, advising us to “Give credit. Take blame.” Says Porter, “That’s the most effective mantra to keep hold off when everything is falling apart around you. When things go wrong it’s natural to slip into self-defense mode. After all, 99% of mistakes are shared at some level. But trying to assign blame elsewhere isn’t a long-term strategy worth pursuing. Even if you do convince your boss or manager that someone else carried the lion’s share of the blame, will your teammates want to work with you after that?”

And time can heal what urgency has injured. “While initial anger strikes hot, it fades when doused with logic and reason. Own your mistake and the repercussions. Not only will this show that you’re the type of employee who can admit a mistake, but you’ll earn the respect of everyone from your teammates to your boss and even the clients (if they’re the ones enduring the bad news).”

Getting it right matters, and changes your experience. “There are plenty of practical steps you can take to minimize the damage of course: deliver bad news quickly, come to your boss with strategies to mitigate future problems, suggest alternatives to fix the problem and so on.

The benefit here: “As long as you hold onto the mantra of ‘give credit and take blame,’ you’ll always be trusted to have another go when the boss needs someone to step up.”

This isn’t an individual exercise, either, says Lisa Zwikl of SmartAcre. “At SmartAcre, we have a culture of caring, so we feel it when something doesn’t go as planned. It hurts! I always stress to our team, to be honest when delivering bad news and if you made a mistake, own it— and own it quickly.”

Once done, Zwikl says, “Follow this formula: State the facts (using data if possible) Explain how you will fix the problem Have a plan so the same thing doesn’t happen again, and never deliver that via email. Have a conversation with the client either face-to-face or via a video call so you aren’t guessing or making assumptions about their reaction.”

Empathy is always about walking a mile in another’s shoes, says Kevin Picton of Sharpen It – Training and Coaching “If you think about it from the bosses point of view, how to deliver bad news is common sense: Tell them there is a problem with X. Tell them the impact (if it is not obvious). Tell them what you are doing about it. Tell them what you need from them (permission, approval, resources, cover, time, etc). Be prepared to say how the problem occurred but don’t offer it up unless asked. And, lastly, any explanation should be about what happened and not who and why so that the focus is on the solution.”

Everyone is on the same side in this, reminds Jasmine Hippe of Augurian. “Present the bad news to your audience in a way that shows you’re on their team. Be empathetic, anticipate their concerns and be prepared to address those concerns with tactical solutions.”

Jenny Wilson of Wilson Marketing Consulting “When reporting bad news to a client, my number one tip is to come to the meeting prepared with solutions to the problem.” The effect says Wilson: “This shows that you care about the client and the issue, and you’re willing to put the work into ensuring that you provide excellent service.”

You must come to the table with both solutions and empathy, says Darryl Smith of Florida Car Accident Lawyer Team “No client wants to hear they have a problem, and there is no clear way to fix it. When you deliver the bad news, your approach should be supportive and open to feedback.”

Andrew Clark of Duckpin uses this approach, too. “I believe that the person opposite you wants to know that you understand their response, whether it’s anger, frustration, disappointment, or anything else. In past situations, I’ve been quick to bypass this step and start listing off what when wrong and why out of my own discomfort. Unfortunately, this can exacerbate tensions and get in the way of taking action to correct things.”

You can also manage how your recipient responds (to a point), says Claire Shaner of ZooWho “In Chris Voss’s hit negotiating book ‘Never Split the Difference,’ he talks about the power of giving your audience an accusation audit before delivering bad news. This means laying out all of the bad things that your boss or client could think of you/your team before you deliver the news.”

For example, says Shaner, “you could say ‘You’re going to think we’ve failed you, you might think this will set us back, you might think we missed our chance, etc.’ This lessens the blow of the bad news. You are being empathetic to your boss or client’s expectations, and due to that empathy they will respond kindly and likely have empathy as to why you’re delivering bad news.”

This isn’t something you can accomplish in email, says Shaner, “Bad news should always be delivered face to face so that you can communicate your empathy and pick up on body language responses that you would otherwise miss in other forms of communication.”

Timing is everything, even when handling sensitive news.

James Meincke of CloserIQ reminds us of this when sharing their advice. “The most important thing about reporting bad news is to catch it soon and escalate to the appropriate parties. Your boss won’t expect everything to run smoothly, but the worst thing that can happen is that bad results go unnoticed and continue to hurt the business.”

Recommends Meincke, “If you notice something off, escalate and communicate that you’re on top of it. Everyone will appreciate the transparency and be more confident in your ability to fix things.”

Editor’s Note: Understand your conversion ratios in order to deliver the best results to your internal and external stakeholders using the Marketing Overview (HubSpot & Google) dashboard. Keep leads heading toward the finish line with the insights pulled from these two important sources.

Use the reporting tools at your disposal, says Nicholas Maynard of Ridgeway. “Creating bespoke dashboards enables both client and agency to keep a close eye on metrics there shouldn’t be any nasty surprises.”

Cautions Maynard, “However, in business, you should always expect the unexpected, and it pays to be up-front and honest if you do have to deliver unwelcome news. It’s a cliché to say that that there are no such things as problems, only opportunities, but there’s some truth in it, and provided you come to the table with a workable solution most clients are understanding.”

And if you find yourself reaching for a visual aid, Milos Mudric of Silver Fox Digital pulls some assistance from the world of psychology. “Bad news is always difficult to hear. For that reason, I started using one simple trick: I show my clients this image.”

Says Mudric of the scale used in this corporate capacity: “It’s obvious that some decisions will have to be made after facing bad news, and it’s important for my client to know how he will feel. This way, acceptance comes much faster, and there is a lower risk of making ‘angry’ or ‘sad’ decisions.”

Jeremy Harrison of Hustle Life acknowledges that delivery is a skill to be mastered. “Delivering bad news is one of the skills I learned while doing my business. I’ve been running a blog for over five years called Hustle Life, which is a resource I created for people looking to find their perfect side hustle. I’ve been in a lot of client meetings, and by continually reviewing everything I did, I’ve developed a fool-proof way of doing it.”

Sometimes, it helps to keep on top of news, rather than masterfully deliver bad news after the fact. “A tip I can give is to keep my clients in the loop. It is still easier to deliver bad news if people are aware and not caught off guard. In all my meetings, I make it a point to state the things that I’ve done and plans that I recommend.”

One size doesn’t fit all, says Harrison. “When delivering bad news, it’s always good to use different approaches. I always start by preparing and getting all the information. I then proceed to provide accurate facts, data, and provide options to show the clients that I’m on top of the situation. And lastly, I prefer to deliver them face to face. An upfront meeting is necessary to show that you empathize with your clients.”

Chapter 10 – Persuasive and Sales Messages

Understanding Persuasion in the digital age (p.327):  Persuasive practices influence behavior  Social networks enable individuals or groups to reach virtually limitless audiences What is persuasion?

 Persuasion is a symbolic process in which communicators try to convince other people to change their attitudes or behaviors regarding an issue through the transition of a message in an atmosphere of free choice  Persuasion has five components: 1. Symbolic process: meaningful words, signs, and images infused with rich meaning 2. An attempt to influence: involves a conscious effort to influence another person with the understanding that change is possible 3. Self persuasion 4. Transmitting a message: verbal or nonverbal, conveyed face-to-face or via the Internet, TV, radio, and other media. They are not always rational and if they appeal to our emotions 5. Free choice  6 basic principles that direct human behavior FIGURE 10. How has persuasion changed in the digital age? (p.329):

  1. Volume and reach of persuasive messages have increased: through ads and persuasive appeals such as TV, radio, Internet, and mobile phones
  2. Persuasive messages at warp: using social media to engage fans through TV shows and songs
  3. Organizations of all stripes are in the persuasion business
  4. Persuasive techniques are more subtle and misleading: persuaders play on emotions by using flattery, empathy, nonverbal cues, and likability appears. They are sending an image or a lifestyle not a product
  5. Persuasion is more complex and impersonal: American consumers are more diverse and don’t necessarily think alike. To reach them, marketers is study various target groups and customize their appeals with the help of technology How to persuade effectively (p.330):  Think about how to present your ideas Applying the 3-x-3 Writing Process to Persuasive Messages (p.330):
  6. Analyzing the purpose
  7. Adapting to the audience
  8. Collecting information
  9. Organizing the message Analyzing the purpose: knowing what you want to achieve (p.330):  The goal of persuasive messages is to convert the receiver to your ideas and motivate action  Build relationships with your audience in social media Adapting to the audience to make your message heard (p.331):  Concentrate on the receiver  The message needs to meet the needs of its audience  Show your receiver how your request helps them achieve some of life’s major goals or fulfill key needs such as: money, power, comfort, confidence, importance, friends, peace of mind, and recognition  Show how your request solves a problem  These questions will likely be asked by receivers:
  10. What should I do?
  11. What’s in it for me?
  12. What’s in it for you?
  13. Who cares? Researching and organizing persuasive data (p.333):  Collect data and organize it  You can brainstorm and prepare cluster diagrams to provide a rough outline of ideas  Organize data into a logical sequence

 A written, rather than face-to-face request may require more preparation but can be more effective Writing persuasive requests (p.339):  Many individuals and companies are willing to grant requests for time, money, information, cooperation, and special privileges  They may just be interested in your project or they may see goodwill potential for themselves  FIGURE 10. Writing persuasive claims (p.339):  Persuasive claims may involve damaged products, mistaken billing, inaccurate shipments, warranty problems, limited return policies, insurance, and faulty merchandise  Use the direct strategy  Use the indirect strategy if a past request has been refused or ignored Developing a logical persuasive argument (p.339):  Logical development in a claim message  Open with a sincere praise  Check the book Using a moderate tone (p.339):  Express your disappointment in view of your high expectations of the product and the company Composing effective complaints (p.339):  An effective claim message makes a reasonable and valid request, presents a logical case with clear facts, and has a moderate tone  Anger and emotion are not effective persuaders  FIGURE 10.7 Persuasive claim (complaint) email Writing persuasive messages in digital age organizations (p.341):

Persuading employees: messages flowing downward (p.342):  Instructions moving downward from superiors to subordinates require a little persuasion  Messages such as information about procedures, equipment, or customer service use the direct strategy  Organizations ask employees to participate in capacities outside their work roles – spending their free time volunteering for charity projects  AIDA strategy provides a helpful structure here  Use warm words  Don’t use the words “should” and “must” they convey negative tone  FIGURE 10.8 Memo e-mailed Persuading the boss: messages flowing upwards (p.342):  Provide evidence when submitting a recommendation to your boss  Back up your request with facts, figures, and evidence.  Emphasize how a proposal can save money = more persuasive  Don’t use “this may sound crazy” or “I know we tried this once before”  Describe the risks involved  Use words such as “suggest” and recommend” rather than “you must” or “we should”  FIGURE 10.9 Persuasive message flowing upward Creating effective sales messages in print and online (p.345):  Sales messages delivered by direct mail or email have a lot in common  Play the 3 x 3 writing process to sales messages Applying the 3 x 3 writing process to sales messages (p.345):  Pay close attention to analysis and adaptation before writing the actual message Analyzing the product and purpose before writing (p.345):

 First study the item carefully  Evaluate the competition so that you can prepare your product’s strengths against the competitors’ weaknesses  Identify your central selling point  Determine the specific purpose of your message Adapting a sales message to its audience (p.345):  Sales letters when over direct mail letters and email Crafting successful sales letters (p.345):  Sales letters are part of multi-channel marketing campaigns  These letters make sales, generate leads, boost retail traffic, solicit donations, and direct consumers to websites  Direct mail is personalized, tangible, and a three-dimensional message that is less invasive than telephone solicitations and less reviled than unsolicited email  Tangible mail has greater emotional impact than virtual mail  FIGURE 10.10 Channel choice: direct mail and social media  Follow the AIDA strategy: