Recipe for a bad news sandwich

Scene from my inbox:

Buffi, can you check this song we were working on?”
“Hi, thanks for your mail. I am coaching until late tonight and out tomorrow morning. However, I can check it for you tomorrow afternoon and give you feedback by the end of the day. Looking forward to hearing it!”

“But I’m recording it tomorrow morning!”
“Oh, ok. I’ll see if I can check it tonight but it will be very late. I’ll give you feedback as soon as I can. Thanks for your patience!”

Sweetie, what happened here? Let’s take a closer look at this brief but important mail exchange. If you check how I responded, I served a Bad News Sandwich, fresh off the grill. This is something many Dutch people forget when giving ‘bad news’ to someone – the Bad News Sandwich! Say what?! (Oh, and it’s calorie-free, by the way.)

If you don’t ‘package’ negative news in the appropriate way, you might come across as being too direct. The Dutch are well-known for their down-to-earth attitude, and their ‘just say it like it is’ approach when it comes to communication. However, English natives usually deliver bad news in a more polite way. We make a Bad News Sandwich. And we serve it with a smile.
Here’s the recipe for how you can make your own Bad News Sandwich:

  1. Start off by saying something positive. Even if it’s just ‘Thanks for your mail.’. That works well and starts out with a positive, welcoming note and is a ‘warm’ start to delivering bad news.
  2. Say the bad news. Most people choose ‘softening’ language to start off with. This means starting the bad news with a phrase like ‘Unfortunately…’ or ‘Sorry, but…’, or ‘I’m afraid that….’, etc. This means that you don’t enjoy saying this bit of bad news. It gives your listener/reader room for empathy. This is a very important part of communication!
  3. You end with something positive. Something simple like ‘I hope to hear from you soon’ or ‘Looking forward to your answer’ or ‘Thank you for your understanding in this matter’ all work well when it comes to professional English.

If you follow these 3 steps, you can see how communication will change. People will not feel as offended or upset that you’ve said something negative in such a direct way, and it always keeps the door open to further communication. This is also an effective negotiating technique. My client could have used it right back at me, by making his own Bad News Sandwich. He could have said, ‘Thank you for letting me know. I realize how busy you are, but if you could find time to have a quick listen, I would really appreciate it. I can’t wait to hear your feedback!’. This would have come across more ‘friendly’ than the statement used above.

So, dear, the next time you have to give bad news, serve up a sandwich! You’ll see how communication will continue instead of breaking down. I so want that for you!

And if you’d like more tips and tricks, especially when it comes to travel – changing a flight, making a complaint while still staying polite, etc – do sign up for my 5 free podcasts which will be sent to you June 29th! You have nothing to lose – except maybe a few bad habits. 🙂

I can’t wait to get back into your inbox again next week! Until then, I’m sending you a big Buffilove sandwich! Enjoy, and see you next week!

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