How to communicate bad news

30 May 2019 -

Business meetingIt’s never easy to be the bearer of bad news to your team. But if you approach it in the right way, you can maintain morale and move forward

Redundancies. A loss of a big client. The downsizing of an operation. Sooner or later, you will have to deliver bad news to your team. It is never an easy thing to do; you’re likely to be feeling the same emotions as your staff will when they know what’s going on. But you can make it easier for yourself and your team if you approach it in the right way.

1. Get your mindset right

It’s important that you’re in the right headspace before you speak to your staff. “When we’re thinking about the situation, we need to be prepared in ourselves to deal with that situation: to deal with the message and the people and what is going to be challenging. We need to be in the right space in our heads in order to be able to do that,” says David McLaughlin, EPA Training and Development Manager for CMI. “If you’re delivering bad news, and your day isn’t going very well, that’s going to come out in your conversation.”

If you anticipate negativity from the person or people you’re speaking to, you’re likely to start off the conversation in a negative way. If you’re expecting them to be emotional, you might soften the message to spare their feelings.

“You need to act with the head and not with the heart,” says Leo Aspden FCMI, a management coach and consultant. “It’s too easy to react with emotion in the first instance. If possible, find someone that you trust and who has a pragmatic approach – a colleague who knows the business as well as you do. You will benefit from having someone to sound you out and to strategise with.”

2. Prepare your team

You should coach and mentor your team and help them to build resilience when times are good. In the event that you do need to deliver bad news, they will be better equipped to handle it. “Don’t reserve these lessons for when a crisis happens – it will be too late,” says Aspden. “Coaching the team to deal with uncertainty can build up resilience and make teams more adaptable to change.”

3. Be open

When breaking bad news, you need to bring the team together as much as you can. You want to ensure that they support each other, not lose trust in each other. In order to achieve this, you need to be open and available.

“If you put yourself in control of the message and be as open as you possibly can, you will leave less to interpretation and reduce the chance that people will gossip and speculate,” says Aspden. “Better for you to give your employees the basic facts of a situation than for it to be left open to supposition and an inflammatory situation made much worse.”

After you’ve delivered the news, it’s important that you keep your door open to your team. Your staff need to feel that they can talk to you about their fears and issues in the wake of them receiving your news.

“Fears are better voiced, and worries shared. It will benefit the staff to know that face-to-face contact is welcomed and that they can always approach you,” Aspden says. “If you’re in a situation where members of the team are leaving, it’s crucial to hold on to the ones you’ve got left and to hold them tight – at least until the storm passes.”

If you can keep your own head and keep control in times of crisis, you’ll set a great example for your team to follow.

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