Ask Denise: Delivering Bad News | The Zebra Blog

Ask Denise: Delivering Bad News

Q: “Denise, I get so much anxiety when I have bad news to tell a client. I get shaky, I can’t breathe, and I just dread their reaction because I can’t tell how they are going to react. I know I overanalyze and should just jump in, but I just can’t!”

A: Handling conflict…even if you didn’t do anything wrong, they didn’t do anything wrong, but you know there is going to be disappointment and maybe even anger, is something we learn in childhood at the family level. So if you grew up with a very negative conflict model, it is no wonder you are doing everything you can to avoid it now.

What you need to do now is develop that conflict-resolution muscle. Here is how you can do that:

  1. First, consider the worst thing that can happen. This sounds counter-intuitive, but let’s think about that for a second. Let’s say a buyer wanted to buy a home – their dream home, in fact. You made an offer on behalf of the buyers, but there were multiple offers they didn’t know about and wound up not getting the home. You need to deliver this news to the buyers and you are concerned that they are going to be devastated. What is the worst that can happen? They can get mad, hurt, and upset and they can fire you. That is probably the worst that can happen in these circumstances. Can you handle these things? Of course. But it is more the not-knowing that is sometimes worse than the potential reaction. So think about all the ways they might possibly react so you can deescalate the worst-case-scenario that is happening in your head.
  2. Number two, let them vent. They may be hurt and upset. Their words may sting, but it won’t kill you. As long as they are not being abusive, let them get their disappointment out. Reassure them with “I knows” if you agree or nod. That shows you are being empathetic and that you were expecting their emotions.
  3. Third, provide solutions and your thoughts. Often when you go in with a proactive approach after you have let them vent, it gives them something to think about instead of just focusing on their emotions. If you disagree with their position on something (like if they said the listing agent and the seller are criminals) then you can state that, but give some takeaways.
  4. Fourth, follow-up with an email. I would actually have this ready to go before you go into the appointment, but it reiterates the solution and how they can move forward. They may not remember all the finer points of your suggestions after they had their emotional moment, so the follow-up again gets them re-focused on moving forward.

Conflict doesn’t have to be scary, but if you have been scarred by conflict in your childhood, relying on a formula will help you focus on action rather than spiraling out of control in your head.

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