“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”
– Winston Churchill
Bad news – it’s one of those things that is universally disliked, whether you are delivering it or you are receiving it. In research, bad news can take many forms, regardless of the subject, from discovering issues with your data to having to embrace the null hypothesis. And while the gravity and implications from bad news can vary in terms of intensity, it can be an opportunity for learning, refining and improving.
Perhaps the issue with your data highlights an issue with the data collection process, something you can correct for next time, ensuring it doesn’t happen again. Although researchers thrive on statistical significance and variation in the data, not having any is a finding in and of itself.
Keeping and applying this perspective in a business setting is a challenge, however.
What do you do if the findings from your research are not in alignment with client expectations? Do the results tell a not-so-good story for your client?
As a service provider, the implications to these questions involve dealing with perceptions of failure and the risk of losing revenue or business; two very real concerns.
So, how do you deliver bad news to your clients?
I’ve found these steps to be helpful in creating an effective approach to delivery.
- Remove the ego from the work.
So often, we throw ourselves in our work, creating something that is inherently personal. That’s not a bad thing; the end product benefits from our passion and interest.
However, we need to guard against connecting ourselves with perceived failures and unforeseen challenges. Otherwise, we risk defensive posturing, which can lead to ignoring very real results and opportunities that may benefit your client.
- Review the findings within the context of business or research objectives.
Going back to the objectives is the most efficient way to ground oneself. Revisiting why this research was commissioned in the first place can help position the findings in a way that highlights the opportunities while acknowledging the reality of the findings.
- Don’t shy away from the challenge.
Involve colleagues, clients, or other experts who can help address the issues and provide additional insights. Getting a fresh perspective can do wonders for identifying an implication you may not have thought of on your own.
- Frame the findings in a compassionately assertive manner.
Remember, you are the expert, which is why you were hired in the first place. While the findings may not tell the story you or your client had hoped, you have the ability and resources to present solutions.
By ensuring these solutions are realistic and grounded in, you’ll be seen as a solid and respected research partner.
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