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"This is what your audience wants to know:
What's up? So what? Now what?"
Sherry Wyatt

Delivering Bad News

Sherry Wyatt

No one likes to be the bearer of bad news.  In the role of manager or executive, however, it will almost certainly fall upon you to do so at one time or another.  Here are some thoughts that may be helpful:

Lee Iacocca, Former Chairman and CEO of Chrysler said:

                                “Tell if first.  Tell it straight.  Tell it all.”

Some additional thoughts:

1.  Get it over with.  If the people you are delivering the bad news to know it is coming, they will be annoyed if you stretch it out with fake conversation, asking them about their weekends, etc.  Needless conversation will also make you seem unsure of yourself and may have the employee pushing you to change your mind.

2.  Be direct, but use some tact, choosing your words carefully. A truly sincere delivery will help your people feel less angry.

3.  Say what you need to say, and then be quiet.  If you go on and on defending or justifying the decision, you will appear as though you are unsure if the right decision has been made.  You will give away your authority if you justify too much.  Once you have said what needs to be said, be patient and compassionate.

4.  Allow time to hear the person out.  Attentive listening, showing genuine empathy (without seeming indecisive) is critically important.  If the bad news involves a person losing their job, no matter how true it is that a person’s performance is not the reason for the termination, most people believe that if they had done a better job, they would not have been displaced.  Their self-worth may be taking a beating.  Avoid saying that you know how they feel.  The truth is that you don't know.

5.  Also, if the news is a displacement, even though these folks may be getting a generous displacement package, this would not be the time to bring up that “things could be worse”.  If you put yourself in their shoes, you will know that this is a time of great stress and anxiety, no matter what the displacement package offers.

6.  Delivering bad news over the telephone is almost as bad as delivering it in an email.  People feel disrespected if they think their manager doesn't have the time to meet with them.

7.  The best outcome you can hope for is that folks understand and know from your past behavior that you have concern and respect for them.  You should trust your instincts.