How To Deliver Bad News At Work – Ask #HR Bartender

Today’s reader note is one we can all relate to:

I’m a new manager. There have been times when I have to conduct a difficult conversation. I don’t have anyone to guide me on how it should be done. Do you have any advice in this area?

Whether you’re a new manager or seasoned pro, having difficult conversations is tough. In fact, delivering bad news in general is hard whether you’re a manager or an employee. In this situation, I’m not sure what the difficult conversation is about. It could be that an employee is going to have their hours cut or maybe it’s to tell an employee they need to improve their performance.

Regardless of the topic, there are a few things to remember when delivering bad news:

Know your audience. Put yourself in the shoes of the person you’re having the conversation with. Empathize with their situation. Let’s say you have to tell someone they aren’t getting the promotion they were hoping for. Tell the employee that you understand what it’s like to be disappointed.

Be direct. It’s very tempting to sandwich the bad news in between small talk or sugar coating. This sends a mixed message. An example would be if you have to tell your team that the department budget is being cut. That’s a serious conversation and you need the team to help cut expenses. If you water down the message, it possible the team will not understand the goal.

Find your words. Once you know that you have to convey a difficult message, start thinking about how you will say those words. Practice it out loud. Sometimes as managers, we are asked to communicate bad news that was decided by senior management. The last thing we want to do is throw anyone under the bus, so find the best way to deliver the message using your own voice.

Look for resources to help you. Over the years, I’ve found that books, blogs, presentations, etc. are great ways to hear new ways for communicating. I love those “Perfect Phrases” books for that reason. They help me find a new way to say something. I can use their suggestions to find my own voice (see above.)

Each of us has to deliver unpleasant news every once in a while. If we put ourselves in the receiver’s shoes and deliver a straightforward message using our own voice, people might not like what’s happening, but they will come to respect us for communicating bad news in a human way.