An elderly couple, grumpily married for over 30 years, decide to have a week apart for the first time in their long suffering marriage. The wife travels to see her sister, leaving her curmudgeonly (great word, look it up) husband in charge of the house and much loved cat.
Having arrived at her sister's home, the wife calls her husband to let him know that she has arrived and to check that everything is OK back home.
"Everything OK?" she asks.
"Fine," is the response, "but the cat is dead."
The wife, obviously distraught, is nonetheless furious.
Anticipating an Adverse Response
"You handled that really badly," she yells. "I loved that cat. You could have told me that the cat looks a bit poorly. Then when I called to check tomorrow you could have said that she looks a bit worse and you are thinking of calling the vet. The next night you could have told me that the vet had been and the news is bad, but he that he had given her medicine to make her comfortable. Then finally you could have delivered the bad news that she had died peacefully."
The husband takes the advice stoically and hangs up.
The next night the wife calls home again.
"Everything OK?" She says.
"Fine" comes the response. "But your mother looks a bit poorly…"
Delivering Bad News
I was reminded of this old joke when the IMF cut its growth forecast for Britain for the third time in nine months and warned George Osborne that further underperformance would warrant a policy U-turn.
For the negotiator, the use of and revealing of information during a negotiation can structure the other side's expectations powerfully. Would a drip feed of bad news work better than the upfront reveal? Think about how you would feel if you were in the other side's shoes.
If you don't, your negotiations may themselves end up unwell!