Turning Bad News Into a Workable Message

delivering bad news to employees

Any owner, manager or supervisor would be happy to stroll into a room full of employees and tell them revenue are up, the company just expanded into new sales territories and workplace amenities are being added.

The more challenging situation is informing associates of negative news, and doing so in a way that won’t spread waves of fear, anger and compromised morale throughout the organization.  The key component is understanding the cardinal rules of wording and attitude when speaking.

Bad news can take various forms. It can mean having to reprimand or lay off employees or explaining to subordinates the company has fallen on hard financial times. Sometimes a business leader needs to transmit negative information to those outside the company, for instance to the press, when the company commits a serious error or is involved in a controversy.

Managers feel a tug between two opposite forces — wanting to advocate for their employees and having to protect the interests of the company. By following a few straightforward principles, a manager can successfully negotiate the terrain with effectiveness and integrity.

Be prepared

Preparation is essential, says Amy Gallo in the Harvard Business Review. Before breaking news to anyone, know the reasons for the decision, any additional parties consulted, any alternative decisions considered and the reasoning behind the final outcome. If unaddressed objections are anticipated on the part of employees, go back to the top decision maker and seek further explanation or even preemptively appeal the decision.

The deliverer of bad news must be straightforward and consistent with his or her message. Strong, assured body language along with firm non-verbal cues are essential. Any mismatch between words and attitude can confuse and compromise the directive. A slumping posture or apologetic tone will contradict what is being said. Be considerate and empathetic to a point, but don’t equivocate and overly soften the bottom-line facts. Consider practicing your delivery on another manager so that he or she can give you an honest critique.

Listening is an essential part of the news-delivering process, as is allowing subordinates to express what they think and how they feel about the news. People naturally want to vent and ask questions, and letting this part of the process occur removes a lot of the steam from the situation.

After telling employees the apparently negative changes about to be made, it is imperative to tell them the “then what” — what the company is going to do next to make things better and move onward and upward. People expect a leader to turn things around, and they want to imagine a prosperous, happy time that can be called “life beyond the bad news.” This outcome is realistically obtainable by simply following these principles of managerial communication.

Sometimes delivering bad news is necessary – but make sure you’re not hurting your business by committing these 5 common small business mistakes.