A Manager’s Guide For Delivering Bad News

Delivering bad news is always a difficult task. Managers who give bad news to their employees experience physical and emotional problems similar to those on the receiving end. Issues like headaches, ulcers, and increased blood pressure can last for years for those delivering the bad news according to a study in Human Resource Management.

When delivering the news of a missed promotion, giving negative feedback, or having to let someone go, it is important to have a plan. A structured approach helps avoid any potential complications or miscommunications that can lead to an even worse situation.

If you find yourself in the role of a manager and you need to deliver bad news in the workplace, just remember to outline the 5 W’s: Who, What, Where, When, and Why. These will help you keep the situation under control.
How to Deliver Bad NewsInfographic courtesy of GetVoIP

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Larry Tyler
Larry Tyler

Great advice. We can deliver bad news in a way that does show our human side. Compassion and kindness do not negate the business side of what we do.

Chris Pehura

In spirit, I agree with these points. But, delivering bad news also requires honesty and a demonstration that you the giver is a good person and doing your best to help.

Need to fire someone? Fire them and then give them advice for finding another job. Then offer help off hours.

Someone has a bad performance review? Blame the process, not the person. Argue that things are not being consistent and for the sake of policy we must stay consistent. Then find out why the numbers aren’t being delivered. Usually it’s not the person’s fault.

Understanding what to say is important. But it’s the person saying it what what they do that is extremely important.

Bernie Althofer
Bernie Althofer

Great points raised in relation to the 5 y’s. I believe the HOW is as important when delivering the message. Setting the scene and addressing the 5 y’s may count for little if the ‘how’ is not addressed. In some cases, the ‘how’ will depend on the situation e.g. mass redundancy, performance review etc. There may be situations where even saying “i have some bad news” will lead person to jump to a conclusion that they are about to be told about a death.

Whilst some workers may perceive a message about a redundancy or a performance review is bad news, couching the message in those terms may only add fuel to the fire unless the worker ‘knows’ that they will be on the end of a ‘negative’ result. Couching the message the terms of being positive so that the worker is given some hope and understanding about the over- arching situation e.g. global financing leading to downturn in productivity (not a personal attack) or ‘There have been some lapses in your performance. Is there anything that has been impacting on that performance, and if so, what can I do to help?”

Putting yourself in the other persons shoes is important when delivering any message that may have an impact on the physical, psychological or financial wellbeing of another. Treating others as a number or as a ‘chess piece’ simply to be moved around at will and at the whim of others can be difficult for some who themselves can find themselves subjected to the same approach.

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