Why is communicating bad news important?
Internal communications is all about sharing important information… and sometimes that information isn’t going to be popular. Your company may have made large losses, lost a lucrative contract, lost a court case, been acquired by another company, or may have to lay off a large number of employees.
When you deliver bad news effectively, it helps you to stay in control of the message, maintain morale and relationships, remain competitive and productive, and keep your brand reputation intact.
How to deliver bad news to employees
Delivering bad news to employees is not something most people enjoy doing. And if you do it badly, you can inadvertently inflame the situation and make it worse. These steps can help through the process as you grapple with how to deliver bad news to an employee:
1. Be upfront and honest
Don’t bury your bad news in the middle of a bunch of other communication: that will just leave a sour impression on everyone receiving it. Similarly, you should be completely honest about the situation. When you are dishonest or even only partially honest, you run the risk of causing bigger issues than just having to deliver bad news.
2. Deliver the information internally as soon as possible
If you have bad news that is likely to be known by parties outside of the organization (the media, the stock market, customers, courts etc) then it is vital that you get on the front foot and tell your employees first before they hear about it from elsewhere. This can stop misinformation from spreading, and it also stops people feeling resentful that they haven’t heard the news from the company before the rest of the world finds out.
3. Use clear and concise language
When delivering bad news it is important that you use plain language that is easy to understand and is not ambiguous or open to interpretation. You want people to know exactly what you are telling them… confusing language can heighten emotions and lead to further uncertainty. Also avoid using cliches and corporate jargon.
4. Clearly outline the situation and any steps that will be taken
You need to give context for the bad news. What has happened to cause this? What are the option? What option has the company selected? What will that mean for employees? What are the next steps? What are the immediate issues to consider? What does the future likely look like?
5. Give employees a voice
Sometimes bad news will be because of a situation that has happened with little or no warning and you won’t have time for a lengthy staff consultation process to consider their input. Even if this is the case, you should still give them an opportunity to speak up. They might want to vent, which is a natural human reaction to surprising bad news. Don’t get emotional and engage with them and argue back.
Bad news is unfortunately a part of life and everyone will have to give it or receive it at some point. The steps you take to deliver bad news can help to prevent the situation from escalating out of hand.
What is the best way to communicate bad news?
When you have to communicate bad news to your employees, you should take steps to try to keep the conversation as productive ad positive as you can. This includes being direct, being honest, taking responsibility for the tough decisions, allowing your employees appropriate time for a response if necessary, being respectful and caring, and focusing on the employee and their future.
How do you deliver sensitive information?
Bad news often contains sensitive information, which means it needs to be delivered with tact and diplomacy. You need to consider other peoples’ feelings when what you are about to tell them is going to be potentially upsetting. To deliver sensitive information, you need to:
- Communicate it at an appropriate time and place
- Be careful about the words you use
- Pay attention to your own body language
- Stay calm and don’t get emotional, even if the other party is doing so.
How do you deliver bad news indirectly?
When you know the recipient of the information is going to be significantly affected by the bad news, but you don’t know them very well, you might opt for the indirect method of communication. This approach lets you open your message with a statement that acts as a buffer. Next you explain the situation before you break the bad news. Then you can either provide them with alternative solutions or redirect them to help and assistance, before you end politely.
Why is it important to deliver bad news?
Bad news isn’t always going to be popular with the intended audience and it can be difficult task to have to carry out. However it is important to do so in order to maintain trust, accountability, transparency and honesty. If you try to hide or downplay bad news, people will be less likely to trust you later and you’ll lose credibility. Failure to deliver the bad news in the first place can make a difficult situation even worse if later on when people realise they had been kept in the dark.