The Bad News Boardroom: How to Tell Employees Bad Things
You can’t expect everything to always go smoothly at work, and you can’t always keep problems away from workers if you’re in charge. So do this instead.
It’s all fun and games until something goes wrong in a business. When that happens, you’re forced to confront the ugly reality of delivering bad news – and that’s not easy. In fact, it’s the kind of thing that will never be easy, especially when you really care about the people who work for your company. Nevertheless, it’s something that needs to be done. You can’t keep workers in the dark when there’s a disaster, and you can’t keep covering up the crisis to the detriment of the organization. You have to let them know what’s going to happen. And you have to make sure that it generates no ill will.
This kind of thing requires an insanely remarkable balance between forthrightness and fairness, as well as a good deal of respect for the employees involved. On top of all that, you need to be able to express the situation in a way that does not alienate and insult the person in question. In other words, you can’t treat this like something you can squeeze in between lunch and a meeting. This requires a lot of planning.
And this is how you do it.
First, think of desired results
Granted, this is something that you need to apply to ALL your communication endeavors. In this case, however, it is especially important. What you’re doing when you’re delivering bad news (along the lines of “we need to let you go” or “you need to improve your performance if you want to stay”) is telling somebody that things aren’t going well for them. What you WANT to do is to ensure that the person you’re talking to isn’t discouraged or angered by the news. You want them to understand the circumstances. This sets the tone for the entire conversation.
Then, think of your channels
Clearly, you don’t want to deliver the bad news through email. Unless there’s no other way, the best way is always the face-to-face conversation. If that is impossible – assuming your company operates through remote workers – then other modes of real-time communication have to be used. Call their business phone numbers, or private message them on your company chat channel. But never EVER push into delivering the bad news until they have responded. When you tell employees that something bad is going to happen, they need to be able to put their two cents in.
Lastly, you need be really specific about why this is happening
What you don’t want to happen is for the situation to turn into a blame game. In order to do this, you need put the focus on very specific events (not people) that led up to the less than ideal circumstances you are in. Provide a context for the bad news, and deliver said news in a way that is clear and to the point. If possible, take the other person’s input into consideration – but make sure that all involved parties know what is happening and what needs to happen moving forward. Honesty and clarity is the best way to get past the unpleasantness.
Bonus: Open opportunities
Bad news can be disheartening, and you need to make sure that there is still some motivation for people to move forward. If you’re forced to let someone go, you need to at least offer them advice or recommend other options for them. If you’re delivering negative feedback, develop a plan of action with the employee in question. Either way, you need to make them believe that there is hope.
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