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by Traci McMillan Beach
on December 17, 2018

The Art of Breaking Bad News

As leaders know all too well, sharing bad news is a dreaded, but common requirement for those in management positions. Particularly during organizational seasons of change, there seems to be no lack of bad news to go around – whether you need to break it to your team that an esteemed colleague is leaving your company, or announce that your company has had a lackluster sales quarter.
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There’s no way around the fact that sharing bad news isn’t fun and no one likes to be the messenger in these scenarios. However, there are a few ways to tactfully frame unfortunate news and perhaps even turn it into good, or slightly less bad, news.   


Be open, honest and transparent

If there is one mistake to avoid in announcing a change internally, it’s being vague. Phrases like, “There have been shifts in our company” or, “Leadership has been meeting to discuss…,” could come across as secretive or half-baked, causing your employees to panic. Let your team in on information to which they should be privy. Detail what shifts have been happening company-wide or why leadership has been meeting. Transparency should be a common thread in all your internal announcements, especially when breaking bad news.

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Get to the point

You don’t have to go full “Pollyanna” and dance around the piece of bad news in your internal verbal or written announcement. Trying to bury the bad news amidst paragraphs of faked positivity will only cause confusion for colleagues on the receiving end. Whatever the bad news – share it right off the bat. Like ripping off a BAND-AID, get it out of the way and then take the time to address the details around who, what, where, when and why.


Add a glimmer of hope

Reserve the second half of your announcement (or the final minutes of your speech or meeting) to end on a positive note. Explain how your team will rally and try to lend a bit of inspiration. For example, “Although our numbers have been lower than we had forecasted, here are the steps we will take to recalibrate.”

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Any questions?

Don’t be the politician who goes to the podium, shares a bombshell, and swiftly exists the press conference. In your announcement, be sure to give your employees a sounding board to share their questions or concerns. Explain that you plan to host a follow-up meeting, a roundtable discussion with impacted employees, or at least let your team(s) know they’re welcome to reach out to you or another leader with any questions, concerns or suggestions they may have in the wake of the announcement.  

 If you want to talk more about how we can help you navigate change within your company, don’t hesitate to reach out!