Most people don’t like giving bad news. However, doing it with grace and empathy is an extremely valuable skill for any leader.
Whether it’s telling a great employee they got turned down for a promotion or telling someone they’ll have to work over the weekend, the way bad news is given can have a big impact on how that news is received and processed moving forward.
The follow tips can help you deliver bad news in a softer, more constructive manner.
Don’t ad lib
Improvisation might be useful for acting and comedy, but it shouldn’t be used when giving bad news. A conversation involving bad news can get hot and emotional. Occasionally, people feel what they are hearing is unfair or not true, making them want to argue.
As a company leader, you shouldn’t give in to arguing. You have to control yourself in order to suppress possible conflict, rather than feeding the fire. Therefore, you should prepare what you’re going to say ahead of time, possibly writing out a handful of key points. You want to get ready for their reaction – and for your response to their reaction.
Identify a justification
Bad news is easier to deliver if you feel justified in giving it. Hence, it’s important to figure out why your employee needs to hear the bad news. Maybe they’ll find out anyway and you’d rather they hear it from you. Or, maybe a problem needs to be fixed before it gets worse.
Be honest with yourself when trying to figure out justification for bad news. If you realize you don’t have a good justification, it might be best to keep the news to yourself.
Be direct but empathetic
Giving someone bad news should be like putting antiseptic on a cut: It’s going to hurt, so you should do it right away, but with compassion. Don’t beat around the bush and don’t just give the news and walk away.
If you’re not direct, you run the risk of being misinterpreted or the news not having the impact that it should. If you’re not empathetic, you run the risk of burning a bridge – which is never a good thing in business.
Don’t permit the delivery of bad news to become a negotiation when a negotiation isn’t possible. When people hear something they don’t want to hear, it’s normal for them to immediately ask, “but why?”
If someone is being told they’re fired or have to work overtime and there’s no way around it, you can’t get into the trap of having the “why” conversation. Stay on message, make sure the message is heard and don’t negotiate if you don’t have the authority to do so.
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