Most of us hate delivering bad news and go to great lengths to avoid those conversations.  We think that bad news damages relationships.  A recent conversation with a very successful business leader challenged that assumption.

The leader in question is chairman of a cutting edge software development firm.  His firm is known for its innovative approach and excellent outcomes.  But the chairman has instilled an interesting practice into the firm: at the beginning of any engagement, they sit down with clients and tell them all of the things that might (or probably will) go wrong.

That’s right. Everything. They even include issues about their own firm that, while not directly relevant to the project, might potentially unsettle the client or the project team if they came to light later.

I imagine clients (and perhaps even the chairman’s own project team) sometimes think, “Hey, who invited the buzz kill to the party? We’re excited to start this project. We’re building optimism and momentum. There’s love in the air! And then this guy dumps his bucket into the punch bowl?”

But actually, it’s ingenious.  The only guarantee in life is bad news (OK, I include death and taxes as bad news).  We can hide it or ignore it, but it’s coming.  How much better to prepare others close to us for it.  While no one should be surprised by bad news, most of us love a little denial now and then.  And surprise bad news is the worst kind of all.

So this smart leader is actually building confidence and credibility into the relationship through bad news instead of damaging that same confidence and credibility through surprise bad news.  When stuff hits the fan, clients then say, “Hey, you told us this might happen.  We’ll work through it.”

So what client or colleague relationship needs a little pre-emptive bad news today? Who knows – it might just add to your credibility!

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