How To Deliver Bad News
by Mike J. Agugliaro
The best leaders are warriors – they step up and willingly do whatever it takes to lead their team. This includes delivering bad news if necessary.
As human beings, we’re wired to avoid bad news: we don’t want to hear it; we don’t want to communicate it. But as leaders, we sometimes need to give bad news. So in this blog post you’ll read about the best ways to deliver bad news.
When I talk about bad news, I’m talking about anything that can be perceived as challenging or negative – such as a board meeting where you have to discuss a very difficult financial situation, or perhaps where you have to sit down with an employee to discuss a very poor review, or even when you have to transition an employee out of your company. Here’s how to do that.
1. Accept responsibility for delivery
It can be tempting to delegate the delivery of bad news to others. And although there might be times when it’s appropriate for someone else to deliver bad news (i.e. if the CFO has to deliver bad news about the company’s finances), you as the leader need to be present and actively involved. And it’s very likely that there are times when you need to deliver bad news yourself. So accept your responsibility as a leader.
2. Get all the facts first
Before you say anything, make sure you get the facts first. In delivering the bad news, the best way to make sure everyone remains level-headed is to keep the conversation based around the facts, not conjecture or emotion. So arm yourself with all the facts – whether or not they support your position. Make sure you review the facts thoroughly and understand them.
3. … BUT don’t delay delivery
Although it’s essential to get all the facts, don’t use it to (unconsciously) delay delivery of the bad news. Putting of the bad news until later only hurts everyone; it helps no one. So gather the facts as quickly as you can so you can deliver the bad news as soon as possible.
4. Be straightforward and honest
As humans, we’re wired to avoid confrontation so we delay, distract, and confuse; our conversation goes in circles as we try to avoid the inevitable. Just be straightforward and honest. If you haven’t delivered bad news before, write out a script and practice it first (don’t wing it!). Even something like letting an employee go from your company could be practiced first so that you’ll have the confidence to deliver the info in a straightforward way.
5. Be respectful empathetic
Remember that although you might have sat with this bad news in your head for a while, your audience is hearing it for the first time. Be respectful of your audience (even if it’s an employee who you are transitioning out of your company) and be empathetic to their situation. Recognize that they are facing a whole bunch of emotions all at once and are being forced to process the bad news immediately while you have been thinking about it for a while.
6. Be firm
Again, we’re wired to avoid confrontation. So, in some situations, you may deliver bad news to an audience who might think that it’s a negotiation rather than your decision, and they may try to counter. Remain firm in your resolve and don’t back down from your position.
Delivering bad news is difficult. But as a leader, it’s unavoidable. Use these tips to help you deliver bad news when it’s necessary to do so. Bad news is, of course, just part of the larger conversation about leading through effective communication. If you want to master all aspects of your communication (from bad news to good news and everything in between), check out my book Secrets Of Communication Mastery.
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