Make sure you have all the facts. Delivering knee-jerk bad news doesn’t do anyone any good, and prevents you from maintaining control of the situation. There will probably be questions, so make sure you have answers before you start.

  • Communicate it to the people who need to know it as soon as possible. Gossip spreads fast, so don’t sit on bad news hoping it might go away. Tell the people who will be directly affected first (if an employee is fired, tell the people who work closest with them; if a project is cancelled, tell the team leaders first) so they understand that you appreciate their importance in the situation.
  • Be candid. I place a lot of value in speaking honestly all the time. People know when someone’s softening the edges, and using vague language can give the impression you’re trying to pull one over on them. Be specific and truthful. You’ll get the best results when all your cards are on the table.
  • Consider your audience. Seeing bad news from your team or employee’s perspective is essential for delivering it in a way that will be productive, not destructive. Your delivery will inform their reaction, so stay calm and take the situation seriously – as a leader, your presentation matters.
  • Don’t fight the silences. Sometimes being quiet is the best way to handle the moments after delivering bad news. People often need a moment to let the information soak in, and respecting that shows empathy and allows them to process the news completely. It can be hard to resist the urge to keep talking and barrel through the meeting, but you’ll do better to give them time to think.
  • Remember legality. If you’re doing layoffs or firing someone, you do have to keep in mind certain legal issues. While it’s important to be empathetic, be careful of treading into territory that could get you in trouble if the employee were to sue the company. Example: if they say their boss has always had it out for them, do not agree. Find a neutral way to respond and encourage.