Tips For Leaders To Deliver Bad News

Tips For Leaders To Deliver Bad News

No one enjoys being the barer of bad news. As leaders, it’s an inevitable task that we must do many times in our career. Giving others bad news can be intimidating and cause us a lot of stress. It’s not something that can be avoided and we must perform this task to our best abilities. There are strategies we can employ to help us deliver the bad news in the most effective way. 

It’s very draining to have to tell others bad news. The worse the news we have to deliver, the harder it is on us. Leading up to delivering the news, we have to carry that burden alone. We stress over it and stress over how to deliver it. We worry about how it would be received. It can give us anxiety and even cause us to lose sleep. It is absolutely not a task that anyone enjoys.

There are all sorts of bad news that leaders have to deliver throughout their careers. It can vary from something small and simple to something with extreme significant. One day you may be telling your team that a team building event is canceled. Another day you may have to tell them that the company missed its sales goals and that layoffs is to come. Not all bad news are the same and not all bad news should be delivered the same way. Depending on the audience, you should approach your delivery differently. Here are the most common audience leaders would have to deliver bad news to.

  • Superiors – When we think of the topic of delivering bad news, we tend to only think about delivering the bad news to our subordinates. We tend to forget about delivering bad news to our bosses. But it’s a reality that we sometimes have to give our bosses bad news too. Giving bad news to your superiors are different than giving to your employees. Here are some tips to you leaders to deliver the bad news to your boss.
    1. Prepare yourself to be queried thoroughly. Have all the data and facts to explain the cause in detail. You don’t want to be in the situation of giving your boss bad news and at the same time, showing how unprepared and unaware you are.
    2. Refrain from painting a nice picture of the situation. Our bosses are smart and sharp leaders. Bad news is bad news and trying to put a good spin to the bad news is not a good idea. Our bosses will quickly see right through it and may be even more frustrated that we’re not more direct. Just be forthcoming and you’ll be appreciated more for it.
    3. Have a plan. If possible, always come with plans on what you will do moving forward to rectify the situation. While you don’t want to paint a nice picture, you do want to have a plan to overcome the problem. But make sure it’s a realistic plan with realistic outcomes. Not just something that sounds good for the purpose of lessening the blow.
  • Group – Delivering bad news is intimidating enough. When you have to deliver bad news to a large group, it elevates the intimidation level to a much higher degree. There are so many people meaning that there can be many different emotions and reactions to the news. The following are some tips for you to use when you have to deliver bad news to a group.
    1. Keep the message simple. I’ve actually been on the receiving end of one of these announcements when I really didn’t have a clear understanding of what the issue was and how it would affect me. I think we all have. When delivering bad news to a group of people, keep the language you use simple. Don’t try to use overly technical terms. It may confuse people and that’s not what you want. The news itself is bad enough, we don’t want to pile onto the issue by confusing people even more.
    2. Allow time for questions. Make sure you plan some time at the end to give people a chance to ask clarifying questions. We want our teams to be as clear about the situation as possible. So make sure you let your team ask you questions. In addition, prepare in advance to answer difficult questions and expect for difficult questions to come. You don’t want to be unprepared to answer difficult questions and try to do so on the spot.
    3. Prepare for more questions. You want to allow everyone to ask all the questions they may have. But timing may not permit. And sometimes people may not want to ask the question in a group setting. Or questions comes to them after the announcement meeting. So prepare a process for to allow people to ask questions after the meeting. Let your team know who they can see to ask questions. Or who they can email to get more answers.
  • Individuals – Giving bad news in a one on one environment poses different challenges. In a one on one setting, the chances of the opposition having emotional outburst is higher. It’s important that you as a leader is prepared to deal with the situation appropriately. Below are some more tips for you to refer to when delivering bad news to an individual.
    1. Be direct. Bad news are bad and there’s no point of trying to sugar coat the bad news to make it easier for the other person to take. When we sugar coat the bad news, we’re not doing it for the other person. We’re actually being selfish and trying to make the news easier for us to deliver. Just be honest and direct and allow the person to fully understand the news and how it impacts them.
    2. Let people vent. It’s a tough situation and emotions will be high. Allow for your employee to share their thoughts and feelings with you. What you don’t want to do is allow finger pointing and blaming to happen. And you definitely don’t want to engage in any back and forth argument.
    3. Show empathy. I know it’s going to be hard on you to have to deliver bad news. But don’t forget to think about the person who’s receiving the bad news and how it will affect them. The news may have further reaching impact than you may think. It may not only impact the employee receiving the news but also their family. So be aware and be ready to empathize.

This would not be complete without a list of tips of what not to do when delivering bad news.  There isn’t one right way to deliver bad news, but if you do any of these things, you are setting yourself up for misunderstanding and failure. 

  1. Delivering bad news via email.
  2. Giving bad news over a phone call.
  3. Texting bad news.
  4. Even video calls are not acceptable to deliver bad news.

Delivering bad news is not fun for anyone. The best we can do for ourselves as well as the people receiving the bad news is to be prepared. The common theme here is to be prepared and be direct. Don’t sugarcoat the message to lessen the blow. Just be honest and clear in your message. Understand that it’s difficult for everyone involved so show empathy and show that you care.

Photo by: Antenna

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