BLUF: How do you handle your boss asking you a direct question when the answer will be negative about someone else?
The Giving Bad News cast says that you never say anything negative about any other people to your boss. It's also says that you have to be truthful. What happens when the two rules conflict each other?
This recently happened to me and I felt that I didn't have a good way to handle the situation and the cast brushed over it too quickly. In the cast, the example is given when your boss asks "Oh, Robert didn't get it to you again?" you are not supposed to answer "Yes" but instead "Regardless of Robert, I don't have what I'm supposed to have." But what if the boss presses the questions with "I appreciate that and I still need to know, did he give it to you?" There is no honest answer that doesn't throw Robert under the bus.
My situation was similar and the question came as "Who did X?" with "X" being the thing that caused lots of problems. I had already taken responsibility as the one reporting back but my boss still wanted the detail of who actually did the thing that went wrong. I didn't feel I had any way to answer that didn't throw my coworker under the bus. More deflection seemed like it would have just frustrated him. I ultimately answered the question, he is the boss after all.
How could I have handled this differently, answering both honestly and not throwing my teammate under the bus?