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Effective communication in the workplace
Effective communication in the workplace

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3.2 Sharing bad news

Sharing bad news in the workplace might involve telling someone they haven’t got a promotion, discussing poor performance or even giving notice of redundancy. If you’re not a leader, you might have to tell other team members that work won’t be completed on time or inform clients that you’re going to miss a delivery deadline.

These types of conversations are tough, but there are better ways to deliver the news.

First, always deliver bad news in person. While presenting it in an email might avoid facing the initial reaction, you will have to deal with the consequences at some point and hearing it directly from you might cause the receiver to react more positively.

The Business Administration department at New England College (no date) suggests five primary steps for delivering bad news:

  1. Prepare for the conversation itself. You need to completely understand the situation before speaking with the person involved. Make sure you can address all the details clearly and accurately.
  2. Alert the employee/colleague as to the nature of the conversation. Aim to be direct but delicate, delivering the bad news in a simple and straightforward way. Use short sentences and clear phrasing.
  3. Be honest and reliable. Stay objective, treat the person with respect and don’t try to sugarcoat the truth or soften the blow. Be honest.
  4. Demonstrate empathy. Think about how you’d treat a friend in the same situation. Give care and understanding and deliver the news in a place where they can work through emotions and retain their dignity.
  5. Give people time to take in the news. Allow time for the person to process the levity of the conversation. Answer questions and make sure they fully understand the situation.

Sometimes, you might find that the news isn’t received as badly as you anticipate. By preparing for the conversation, you’ll be in a better position to adapt and respond to their needs.