Expert Panel

Focus on these things to succeed in Executive Leadership / General Management

Communicating Bad News


As managers, and leaders, we anticipate challenges, take on responsibility and drive results.  Our ability to communicate well gives us an advantage when motivating, providing direction and giving feedback, however, no matter how good you are at communicating, nobody likes to communicate bad news.  We all dread reporting poor results, pointing out mistakes and letting employees go…. but it is an important part of the job; better to do it well than to avoid doing it at all.
Here are ten tips to get good at communicating bad news:

1) Make sure your message is heartfelt.
Bad news should always be given for a good reason.   Your good reason should be at the forefront of your message and the person receiving the bad news should walk away understanding why the bad news had to be given, even if they did not like to hear it.


2) Be accountable.
You are giving bad news because it is your responsibility to do so.  Hold yourself accountable and never blame bad news on others.  If the people who receive the news see you as only a messenger, they will feel that they are not important enough to be spoken to directly; moral will be damaged more than it should be.  Another impact of your accountability is the buck/message stops with you.  This allows next steps to take place and people to move forward.

3) Be direct.
Nobody likes to hear bad news but it is even worse when you think you are being told something but not sure if you are hearing the truth.  Come straight to the point, explain your position, and try to foresee/answer any questions prior to them being asked.
4) Let your audience develop your conclusion on their own.
Sometimes the ah-ha moment needs to come from the receiver of the message, not the sender, in order for it to really sink in.  You can do this by sitting down with the person you need to communicate your message to, let them see things from your perspective, the options you need to choose from, and ask them what they would do if in your position.  You may not have to tell them your decision after all; they will propose it to you or may come up with a legitimate alternative for you.
5) Talk individually before addressing bad news to a group.
Reactions to bad news are sometimes minimized if you have one-on-one discussions before you make an announcement to a group.  Pull people aside and be candid with them.  Get some feedback prior the announcement meeting so that you can incorporate their thoughts into your presentation.  You will also feel calmer knowing you are not alone in the room because others already know what you are going to say.
6) Come prepared with solutions.
If you are reporting bad news you should have some solutions in mind to lead individuals to the next steps either you or they can take to move forward.  What does this news mean for the individual, the department or the company?  Where do you go from here?  You want to be prepared to address this dialog before people walk away, otherwise they will focus on the problem, not the solution and it will be very difficult to rally them back toward your goal.
7) Communicate often: both good and bad news.
If you are an effective communicator all the time, people will feel you have respect for them by your constant connection.  This respect will make them more willing to listen to what you have to say and understand why you have to say it.
8) Be consistent in your message.
Repetition is key to getting others to understand your message, especially if you are presenting it to multiple groups.  Use the same presentation; write down key points so you are sure to include them.  If you addressed questions during a previous discussion, make sure you address those same questions in the next discussions.
9) Make sure you are understood.
Allow time for questions after presenting the news.  Take the time to follow-up on the solutions you presented to your audience.  Bad news should not be left as bad news.  Show your leadership skills by ensuring you can turn the bad into a positive forward momentum.
10) Know it should not be easy.
If giving bad news is ever easy for you…something is wrong.  You can improve your skills, preparedness, and ability to bounce back after giving bad news, but it is very normal and human to feel uncomfortable about doing it.  As long as you are sincere, and focused on the next steps, you can improve your abilities without losing your compassion.



Written by Lisa WoodsPresident ManagingAmericans.com

Lisa is a successful entrepreneur, world-class marketing strategist, and dynamic business leader with more than 20 years experience leading, managing and driving growth. Throughout her career, Lisa has been influential in integration techniques, organizational and cultural overhauls, financial turnarounds and developing employees into exceptional leaders, results driven managers and passionate team contributors.


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