Back to Blog

Softening the Blow: Part 2

Published under Research delivery
Written by Josh Brinkers

... continued from Part 1

Taking a driver's awareness course made me consider how messages are affected as much by their delivery as by their content. 

This naturally led me to think about the job I do and how I deliver potentially 'bad news' to clients.  I can definitely see why the course took the particular approach it did. Nobody thinks they’re a bad driver, and they certainly don’t like being told they are. Lecturing a group of people on what they did wrong and telling them they’re all terrifically naughty isn’t likely to make a change; they’ll just cross their arms and ignore what you’re saying. Better to take a more thoughtful approach, and let attendees work out the main message for themselves.

The trouble was that taking an illegal action and analysing it to better understand what emotions were responsible had the unfortunate side-effect of justifying it a little bit too. It was demonstrated that I wasn’t a bad person for making the mistake I did, and nor was I necessarily a bad driver – it was actually fear of Fat Walter that was to blame, and at the time I couldn’t control that. My heart forced my head to make a decision that, in the moment, seemed like the right thing to do but also happened to be illegal. This isn’t to say I didn’t take the course seriously or that I’m unaware of what I did wrong, but the particular route the course took towards its key message definitely had an intriguing effect on how I thought about the whole series of events.

It’s made me think about how I deliver bad news to clients. Market research projects have a habit of sucking you in; you often find yourself wanting to find the result your client’s hoping for, especially when the stakes are high. It’s partly because good news is easier to present, but it’s also because working with closely alongside clients gives you an honest insight into the nerves that come with leaving a huge decision to a piece of research.

So what if it all goes wrong? What if the thousand-odd people we’ve spoken to decide a new concept’s a bit rubbish, or feel like a long-established store should close down after all? My natural inclination is to take the same softly-softly approach the instructors on my driver’s awareness course did. After all, brutal put-downs just aren’t my style and it’s nicer to talk about a glimmer of hope than a mountain of bad news. However, being on the receiving end of that same approach has shown me that being a bit more honest and direct is sometimes the best course of action – a soft touch can often come out as, well, a bit soft.

It seems the delivery of the message is often as important as the message itself. If I’m too harsh, clients might – rather than listen to what I’m saying - feel the need to defend their concept, their company, or even themselves. However, if I choose to be nice and break the news gently, the audience might see the bad news I’m delivering as less of an issue than it actually is. Both approaches result in the key message being ignored.

Like most things, it’s a balance - one I’ve definitely come to take more notice of. Any bad news should be seen (and presented) as an opportunity to improve or a question answered, and it’s this approach I’m looking to take next time I don’t have the answer a client wants.