How To Deliver Bad News

How To Deliver Bad News In The Workplace

Delivering bad news is challenging and tough, made even harder when you don’t agree with the message or decision you’re communicating.

Maybe you have to tell your star employee they were not picked for the promotion.  Or informing an employee that they can’t work from home two days a week anymore.

Do you toe the party line and act like you agree with the decisions or policies?  Or should you break ranks and let them know how upset you are?

When you are a manager, you often have two different parties’ interests at heart: your management and your employees.  You are often walking a fine line between being a company advocate and an employee advocate.  Let’s look at some ways to navigate your way around this challenge.

Prepare for the conversation

Take your time preparing and make sure you are clear on the decision made, who was consulted and what other possibilities were discussed.  Finally, be crystal clear on the rationale behind the final outcome

  • If you have any questions, go back to whoever made the decision to seek clarification. 
  • If you don’t think all concerns were heard, appeal the decision before conveying anything to your employee or team.

Be straightforward and clear

One factor that significantly affects hearing bad news is how it is delivered.  Watch that your body language is congruent with your verbal message. 

Assertively express the information and leave no room for interpretation. 

Be thoughtful and caring but calm and clear.  Focus on the decision and explain why it’s the final call.  Contemplate practising what you’re going to say ahead of time with a trusted colleague who can give you constructive feedback about your messaging and style.

Explain the process of the decision

People are more willing to accept a decision if they know that it was made with procedural fairness – meaning the process was thorough, systematic and fair. You can even consider telling your employees about the process.

Sharing your viewpoint on the decision is unhelpful, particularly for staff that are struggling with the outcome.  If you disagreed with the process, take it up with your managers, not your employees.

Allow venting, but not debate

Once you have delivered the news and explained the decision-making process, ask for reactions and listen to their concerns.  Resist the impulse to align with the team and malign the decision

Don’t encourage debate about the decision that is already made. 

Focus on moving forward

Once you have heard their concerns, take a break, whether this is for a few minutes or days.  Let your staff process the information.  Then start helping the team or individual to focus on the future. 

Enlist them in problem-solving and finding the best solution going forward.  Let them know you are supporting them in their next moves.

Key Takeaways

  • Fully comprehend why the decision was made before communicating the news
  • Formulate what you are going to say and rehearse with a trusted colleague.
  • Explain the rationale and process for making the decision – let them know there was procedural fairness
  • Don’t sugarcoat the news – ensure you are clear and direct in your communication
  • Keep your body language congruent with your message
  • Don’t let people debate the decision.  Allow them to express their disappointment then focus their attention on moving forward.

It is never easy to convey difficult information or decisions to your team or employees.  But there are some simple strategies to make it easy on both you and the recipient/s. 

Let us know if we have missed any strategy that you have found to work well.

© The Remote Work Index