Even when company goals are being met and employee engagement is at an all time high, there will always be conflicts to resolve and bad news to deliver. Nobody likes being the messenger when what they’re conveying may negatively affect the recipient. As a manager, however, it’s your responsibility to communicate firmly and clearly with your employees, even when their departments, salaries, or jobs could be on the line. You may also be the one to disperse bad news that affects the entire company, such as a lawsuit or bankruptcy.
Bad news needs be delivered strategically so as to not have a downward effect on office culture, morale and productivity. Next time you need to have a sensitive discussion with one of your workers, use these helpful tips to make the process run as smoothly as possible:
Address it head on
You might not want to admit the bad news is real, or that it’s going to result in tangible consequences, but sweeping things under the rug or pretending they’re not so bad will only exacerbate the negative reaction you’ll receive when you finally do share the information with your team members and employees. Founding partner of Proteus, author, and keynote speaker Erika Andersen wrote in Forbes magazine that many leaders convince themselves of reasons to avoid confrontation. But if you’ve been repeatedly telling yourself that the copyright lawsuit will simply “blow over” or that a problematic employee will change his ways on his own accord and you’re still waiting for these things to happen, it’s time to conduct those difficult stakeholder discussions. Not only will being straight up with bad news manage the expectations of those involved, it will also help you preserve your reputation as being an honest, level-headed leader – as opposed to someone who withholds important news out of fear or indifference.
“Infuse your message with some degree of compassion and positivity.”
There’s a fine line between putting on a brave, no-nonsense face and coming off as cold, mean, or uncaring. When you’re delivering bad news in any form, it’s important to infuse your message with some degree of compassion and positivity. Fast Company recommended never doling out pink slips on Friday afternoons, for example, since workers will be forced to spend a weekend stressing and worrying before they’re able to address questions and next steps with your human resources department. You should also be thoughtful about where you deliver bad news. While it might be convenient for your workday to tell someone they’re fired in your centrally located office, it’s far more compassionate to take your employee to get a coffee around the corner or have a quick chat in the lobby. Pick a spot where workers can express their emotions, which could involve anger, confusion, and sadness, without their colleagues having to bear witness. Even when a firing is based on a person’s violation of the rules or has been obviously approaching, everyone deserves the chance to grieve bad news with dignity.
“An appropriate location will help to limit outside interruptions, as well as preserve the receiver’s self-esteem,” explained Stuart Sidle, a professor of organizational psychology and associate provost for strategic initiatives at the University of New Haven, to Fast Company.
It’s easy to get caught up in your delivery and forget to engage in a discussion once you’ve laid the information on the table. No matter what type of news you’re expressing, however, you should always give recipients time to ask questions, air grievances, offer solutions and challenge your positions. During this time, make sure to really listen to what people are saying. Not only do they deserve to be heard, but they could offer up some answers or constructive criticism you hadn’t thought of yet. Failing to ingest feedback after dropping a bomb on someone’s work day can also cast your leadership skills in a negative light. As Andersen wrote in Forbes magazine, “If you share bad news and then aren’t willing to take in the response, it feels as though you’re throwing something nasty on their desks and walking away.”
Ditch the script
When you’re delivering news that will affect people personally, don’t dilute it through the most impersonal filter possible – a corporate script. It might be easier for you to lean on pre-approved talking point when sharing a leadership shake-up with your team members. You may deliver all the necessary information accurately and clearly, but it will be missing that human touch that’s so important for company retention and office morale. However, this doesn’t mean you should simply fly by the seat of your pants when leading difficult or awkward discussions. Inc. magazine suggested taking some time to really think about what you need to say, and how you should present it to the people involved. Consider a variety of potential responses, and have answers or counter-questions at the ready. If you’re worried that you might forget significant details under the stress and pressure that comes with being the messenger of bad news, it’s alright to have a sheet of paper with notes and reminders, but don’t read directly from a page. Speak from your heart and be authentic, thoughtful and direct.
Offer next steps
Don’t leave people hanging – wrap up any challenging meeting by laying out potential next steps. If the news you’ve delivered pertains to an entire company or team, be clear about what you’re doing to address the problem. Maintain an optimistic tone, but always be straightforward about all possible outcomes so that people can start planning for their futures.