It’s important to find ways to soften the blow and support people receiving news that may upset them. To that end, 14 members of Forbes Communications Council shared their tips for preparing to have an unpleasant conversation with your team or customers. Follow their advice to ensure these discussions go as smoothly as possible.
Start by being transparent about the goal that led to the decision. This shows respect for the individuals in your audience and gives them more solid ground to stand on when they receive the “bad news” part of the communication you’re sending. – Marya Roddis, The Santa Fe Group, Shared Assessments Program
Focus on being straightforward and compassionate. Bad news is negative by nature, so don’t dress it up or try to make it seem better than it is. Anticipate feelings and questions the news will create and come prepared to provide moral support and helpful information. Treat it as if you were delivering unpleasant news to your own family and be emotionally available. – Cord Himelstein, HALO Recognition
The most respected delivery of bad news is getting to the point quickly. While context and background are important and should follow later in your message, the first priority is saying up front what is actually happening. In preparation, spend the most amount of time on those first few sentences of your message. Make sure it’s transparent, easy to follow and empathetic in its impact. – Camille Weleschuk, ATB Financial MORE FOR YOU
Delivering bad news is a daunting task, but it’s more important to be honest and lay out the news clearly for the person to receive it. It’s also important to have a solution to put on the table so that it can be a productive conversation. Going into an unpleasant situation or conversation, I like to remind myself that in order to grow into something great, unpleasant moments will come and go. – Ami DeWille, Perform[cb]
Emotional intelligence is key. Entering the conversation with empathy is of utmost importance. You should be prepared to relay concise and transparent information without presenting yourself as brash or indifferent. Relay your information, listen to the concerns stated in the receiving party’s response, exhibit empathy, and then reiterate your position as a conclusion to the conversation. – Mason Burchette, Best Buy Metals
With bad news, it’s best to think through what you’ll say, and then have the conversation. Nothing stays secret for long anymore, so it’s far better to hear the news from the source than hear it on the street. Not to mention, you run the risk of overthinking it and stressing yourself out when you keep it to yourself for too long. – Kate Barton, Clearview Advisory
Nobody enjoys delivering bad news. In fact, a lot of people dread it, which can lead to a delay in delivering the news, making the outcome worse. It’s best to come with your facts, be direct and offer a solution to the problem. You may not be able to come with a solution to “fix” the problem, but I’ve found most people respect honesty and a genuine effort to move forward. – Megan Ruszkowski, CoreSite
In any uncomfortable conversation, the recipient needs to feel respected and appreciated. If the team tried hard to avoid the bad outcome, then acknowledge the effort. Recognize the contribution. Be transparent with the bad news to establish trust and make understanding details easier. But most importantly, don’t forget to share a future plan as well. – Cynthia Sener, Chatmeter
It can help to prepare and practice what you are going to say so that you can deliver the news or feedback with confidence. Empathy is important, but you also need to stand firm and be straightforward. People can ramble when they are uncomfortable. Don’t say more than is necessary at the time. Let your employees, customers, etc. know how to reach you or who to contact for follow-up questions. – Haseeb Tariq, Disney, Fox, Guess
Deliver tough news with empathy. This should be a two-way dialogue, so listen to them, and if they’re not saying anything, check in to see how they’re feeling. It’s also important to think about how the news will impact them by putting yourself in their shoes and giving them time to process and respond. – Roshni Wijayasinha, Foxquilt
- Be honest.
- Be clear.
- Convey security.
- Give enough information to those affected.
- Don’t saturate the employees.
- Convey optimism.
- Act with pertinence.
6 tips for delivering bad news to employees at work
Why is it important to effectively deliver bad news to employees?
If youre responsible for delivering unpleasant news to a colleague, you might be speaking for the decisions of higher-level executives while trying to support the emotions of the employee or team. Representing and understanding both groups can present a challenge when deciding how to present the bad news. Above all else, its important to speak honestly and with empathy when delivering unpleasant news. This way, the receiver of the information knows the decision is final but also knows that you, and the company as a whole, respect and care about them.
Reasons for delivering bad news to employees
Team leaders, supervisors, managers and human resource representatives are the most likely employees to deliver unwelcome news to their colleagues. A few of the most common types of workplace bad news include:
In all of these and similar scenarios, you should approach the conversation with your employee or team with the utmost respect and transparency to help the receiver of the news continue their work in a positive manner.
How to deliver bad news to employees
When its time to deliver bad news to employees, follow these steps to ensure youre prepared and confident:
1. Research and prepare
Before meeting with the employee or team, gather the following information:
Preparing this information in advance will make the conversation more manageable as youll be able to answer any questions the employee or team might have about the decisions basis.
If youre new to delivering bad news, rehearse your conversation. Write out talking points for reference. Enlist the help of a friend or family member to practice the conversation. Ask them to respond in different ways to the news so that you can practice responding to varied emotions and questions about the information.
3. Avoid small talk
When meeting with the employee or team, avoid the instinct to begin the conversation with small talk or a separate discussion. Begin by immediately addressing the unpleasant news.
4. Use direct language
Use easy-to-understand language that explains the information or decision with clarity. Try not to use business jargon or to reframe the news so that it seems less severe. Be honest and direct to ensure your employee or team understands the information youre sharing.
5. Provide context
Once youve shared the actual news, explain who made the decision, why they made that choice and any other related and relevant information to provide context. During this explanation, its okay to show empathy and share your feelings with the employee or team, but be sure you continue to support the decision and maintain your position as a representative.
6. Give time for a response
Allow the employee or team time to ask questions and share their feelings. If necessary, enforce the finality of the decision, but offer sympathy and empathy for any sense of loss or other emotions that may arise from the receiver or receivers.
7. Establish next steps
End the conversation by discussing how to move on from the decision or information. Offer advice or guidance with specific steps or actions the employee or team can take to make positive career steps with the company.
Tips for delivering bad news to employees
When delivering bad news to employees, consider these tips to keep the conversation as positive and productive as possible:
Examples of delivering bad news to employees
Use these examples from a few different scenarios to help you structure your own bad news delivery:
The employee did not receive a promotion
In this scenario, youre sharing with an employee that they did not receive a promotion they applied for.
Example: “We did not select you for the promotion. The hiring team selected a candidate with more leadership experience, and while I think you would perform well in the role, gaining more experience before promoting makes sense. Do you have any questions or anything youd like to share?” [Allow the employee time to respond.] “Lets discuss how you can gain more leadership experience in the coming year.”
The team was denied a training request
In this scenario, company leadership denied a research teams request to attend professional development training.
Example: “We cant send the team to training at this time. Unfortunately, we dont have the professional development budget right now to send the entire group to this out-of-state training. Do you have any questions or thoughts?” [Allow the team time to respond.] “Are there any other professional development opportunities in the local area we could consider for next quarter?”
The employee received a poor performance review
In this scenario, an employee has received a poor performance review and must meet with their manager about it.
Example: “Your performance review rated you as ineffective in several areas. I know youre a hard worker and capable of performing at a higher level, but unfortunately the data did not show that for this year. What do you think impacted your production?” [Allow time for the employee to respond.] “Lets discuss some strategies and training opportunities that will improve your performance.”
How do I tell my employees about bad news?
- Be direct. Address the information immediately. …
- Be honest. Provide factual information to your employee or team. …
- Take responsibility. …
- Allow time for a response. …
- Focus on the future. …
- Follow through. …
- Be respectful. …
- Be caring.
What is the best procedure for delivering the bad news?
How do you deliver bad news to someone?
- Make eye contact. As cliche as it sounds, it’s better for the receiving party to be sitting down. …
- Sort yourself out first. It’s never good to give someone bad news while you’re upset. …
- Try to be neutral. …
- Be prepared. …
- Speak at the level you need to. …
- Use facts. …
- Don’t negotiate. …
- Offer help.
What are the 4 steps for delivering bad news sensitively?
- Get straight to your core message. …
- Stick to your guns. …
- Explain yourself, but not too much. …
- Get out of the conversation.