Are you ignoring an elephant in the room? It might be a particularly tough competitor that’s threatening to put you out of business. Or maybe the company is looking at layoffs. Or you have to disappoint a star performer who wants a raise.
The bottom line is that there’s no easy way to deliver bad news. It’s going to be painful no matter what, and putting it off isn’t going to make it any better. Here are five tips on how to do it right:
Don’t assume that just because you know the situation, you can stand in front of a room of people (or just one person) and tell them about it. Consider what you’re going to say carefully. Do your homework on how the bad news came to be and what it’s going to mean for the company.
While you should be considerate of employees’ feelings, don’t take the easy way out by hedging your words. If the message you deliver is confusing, that’s going to lead to more tension and less faith in leadership.
Explain the bad news succinctly and directly, detail how the decision was made, and lay out expectations for the whole team. If you understate the problem, your team won’t take it seriously.
Make sure your team understands the reality of the situation. “We’re only at 50% of the goal for this quarter,” or, “We can’t afford raises this year because of a significant drop in revenues.” Try to stay as objective as possible and demonstrate the financial issues that the company has to deal with. Your employees may not appreciate the bad news, but they’re adults who can handle reality.
True leaders stand up when the company has made a mistake. They take ownership of their actions without wavering. If it happened under their watch, then it’s their problem. When you try to pass blame on to someone else or avoid it all together, your team won’t be motivated to take ownership either. Leaders who recognize that they make mistakes will earn the respect of those around them.
When you’re delivering bad news, employees have the right to ask tough questions that you should be prepared to answer. It won’t be comfortable, but teams trust leaders who are able to defend decisions and explain the circumstances in detail.
Leaders know that delivering bad news isn’t the most fun part of the job, but it is necessary. By acting carefully and decisively, you can minimize the impact of the bad news. Teams that go through difficult times together will learn how to adapt to changing conditions.