How to deliver bad news: 5 leadership tips

How to deliver bad news: 5 leadership tips

Maybe you have to announce layoffs or an organizational shakeup: Even without a pandemic,  it's difficult to give bad news. Use this advice to have a constructive, empathetic conversation

up
35 readers like this
Arm in black sleeve holds umbrella above three people wearing blue

Perhaps you need to lay off half of your team, put someone on a performance improvement plan, or announce yet another office shakeup. Or maybe you need to fire an underperforming employee, decide who to promote, or cut benefits to preserve company finances.

These are all examples of challenges you might face at some point in your career. No matter how long you've been a leader, it’s always difficult to have a constructive and empathetic conversation with the people affected. Here are five tips to help people process and accept tough decisions.

1. Start with the facts. Using facts and data to support your decision can make bad news less personal so people are less defensive. Avoid using judgmental and subjective words like “better than,” “right,” and “wrong.” Instead, focus on the independently verifiable facts on which your decision is based.

[ For more advice on crisis leadership, read Emotional intelligence during the pandemic: 5 tips for leaders. ]

2. Share the consequences and tradeoffs. As a leader, you need to be able to evaluate the consequences from every stakeholder’s perspective. If you can help the people affected comprehend the situation from a holistic, long-term perspective, it’s easier to build understanding and acceptance. Tempting as it may be, do not understate the damage.

Clarify what happens next for everyone involved. Using a calm, confident voice, list clear action items for yourself and those affected.

3. Discuss next steps and actionable items. It’s natural for people to experience anxiety and fear after hearing tough news, as it introduces uncertainty. To mitigate this, clarify what happens next for everyone involved. Using a calm, confident voice, list clear action items for yourself and those affected.

4. Show that you care. Make an “I statement” expressing how you feel, using specific emotions such as sad, regretful, embarrassed, worried, etc. Acknowledge that the decision is difficult for the receiver and explain that it is also tough for you. Convey empathy and genuine concern for everyone affected and allow yourself to be vulnerable with your own feelings. Your intention is what matters most, and it will shine through.

5. Give people time to process. Ask if the person needs you to clarify anything but understand that he or she might need time to process what happened. Create a safe space for people to share how they feel, what they think, and just to vent. Whether the person will remain with the company or not, let them know they can always reach out to you.

In trying times like these, communicating tough decisions is even more difficult. Being clear, empathetic, thoughtful, and patient while delivering bad news may help ease the pain.

Thoughts? Reactions? I’d love to hear from you.

[ Are you leading culture change? Get the free eBook, Organize for Innovation, by Jim Whitehurst. ]

Kate Yuan is a startup consultant with a focus on go-to-market strategies and enterprise sales. She has worked with startups in four continents and 30+ countries as an investor, advisor and operator. Most recently, she was the Operating Partner at Hemi Ventures, an early-stage fund investing in mobility, biotech and enterprise AI sectors.

7 New CIO Rules of Road

CIOs: We welcome you to join the conversation

Related Topics

Submitted By Derek Belch
December 04, 2020

Amid the pandemic, companies must prioritize a customer-first culture. This means giving your employees the exposure and tools they need to bring these values to daily work.

Submitted By Gordon Haff
December 03, 2020

Twenty-one percent of IT leaders accelerated their digital transformation work during COVID-19, Red Hat's Global Tech Outlook 2021 research says. But have enough IT leaders prioritized dealing with the related culture change?

Submitted By Kristin Burnham
December 03, 2020

After months of grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic, what if your company wants you to return to the office – and you want to continue with remote work? Experts share these six tips

x

Email Capture

Keep up with the latest thoughts, strategies, and insights from CIOs & IT leaders.