Management Skills 205: How to be the bearer of bad news

Being the bearer of bad news is one of the biggest challenges managers face. No body likes bad news, and it is worse when you know you might be ruining somebody’s day or much more. It never gets easier to tell someone they’re not performing up to standards, or to tell a whole team that their project they’ve spent so many hours on is now scrapped or the company is downsizing, especially when it may have nothing to do with their skill sets.

bearer of bad news as a manager

The first and most critical aspect of the situation is to show respect and dignity to everyone involved. By respect, I do not mean sugar-coating or uttering redundant platitudes, but understand that as a manager you need to be completely prepared to answer the multitude of questions that would be crossing people’s mind. The questions to prepare for are What is Happening? Why is it happening? How are people affected?

In situations like layoffs, bad financial situations, or poor employee performance it is important to know how to communicate in a humane as well as effective manner. In most of these situations, a clear decision is usually the basis for this conversation. Therefore for a manager, it is important to take ownership of the decision and be ready to explain what caused it.

How to be the bearer of bad news

The first step to take is to develop a clear procedure for delivering the information to employees. The plan should include: how the communication will occur (individually or in groups); who will deliver the communication (HR, managers or senior managers); when the communication will happen; and what exactly will be said.

Start with facts that can be substantiated. Do not build up the announcement or give advanced statements; just get straight to the point. Keep the message brief, direct, and don’t sugarcoat. Be as honest and as transparent as possible in telling the person everything that can be told. What is background to the bad news that has be delivered? You need to communicate the context of the news, and the reasoning behind management decisions.

Be confident, but compassionate in your manner. Come across as credible and sincere to your audience. Use your own words and interpretation of the decisions. It is easy to catch out when you are speaking someone else’s set dialogues.

Explain to the employees what the organization is doing to address the situation or to respond to the crisis is in alignment with its values. Emphasize specific actions management is taking to spare employees pain. When delivering bad news, offer assistance in finding a solutions or an action plan to solve the problems that led to the bad news.

Even if the said situation is non-negotiable and unchangeable, you want to acknowledge how the other person might feel. It is important to validate their feelings even if you disagree with them. Let them know that their feelings are recognized and accepted, and that you respect them. Ultimately, the need of the hour and your skill as manager is to want the other person to leave the conversation with dignity, and their self-esteem in tact.

Hopefully these tips will help you bear the burden of being sometimes the sole bearer of bad news in an organization or team!

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