First, the Bad News

Hagen meets WoltzI was watching Francis Ford Coppola’s classic adaptation of Mario Puzzo’s The Godfather the other day, and was again reminded of one of the lines that should be quoted more often than it is, especially for business owners. Early in the film, Tom Hagen goes to see the film producer Woltz to ask him to give Johnny Fontaine a part in his upcoming film. Woltz is holding a grudge against Fontaine, and doesn’t respond well to Hagen’s request. When he gives Hagen his final answer, Tom Hagen requests that his car take him directly to the airport. “Mr. Corleone is a man who insists on receiving bad news immediately.Mr. Corleone is a man who insists on receiving bad news immediately,” he explains. The scene occurs just before the famous horse head scene: astute aficionados have noted the bowl of oranges on the table during their dinner together at Woltz’s home.

Here’s the thing: we’re predisposed to want to give and receive good news, but often the bad news is more important because it can require a more immediate response. When supervising staff and contractors, I try to cultivate the discipline of giving bad news right away. It’s the same with clients — whether they know it or not, getting the bad news out of the way first is always the best practice. It gives you the opportunity to take early action when it’s required, then lets you move on to the good news. In my experience, delaying the bad news usually compounds it by leaving you less time to address issues. Even if it’s just warning of a potential problem, it allows you time to weigh options and manage risk.

It may go against the grain, but make a habit of giving your clients the bad news right away, and insist on this from anyone who reports to you as well.