Sharing Bad News

Communication can be a challenge for any business or organization. Some companies are good at sharing information and others, not so much. Effective communication can be the tipping point between success and failure. Ineffective communication in an organization creates rumors and a needless waste of time that affects morale and productivity. Sharing news good or bad, if done the right way, can help achieve a high performing business. Here are six key ways to communicate and share good or bad news:

  1. Don’t wait. Our human nature tends to make us wait when it comes to bad news. It is better to share information immediately, as opposed to waiting. In today’s work environment, there is constant discussion of “transparency.”  Giving people information in a timely fashion is acting transparently. The other key is trust in leadership. By withholding critical information, we quickly destroy faith within an organization. 
  2. Make the meeting faceto-face. Emails or memos leave too much for interpretation and come across as impersonal or uncaring. Breaking tough news will test the leadership, but it is the right thing to do for people whom you work with daily. Allowing them to see and hear tough news directly is the price of leadership. There is no ducking delivering tough news. 
  3. Keep it low key. Keeping a meeting where tough news is delivered low key allows for people to feel more comfortable in asking questions and getting answers in ways that make it less high-stakes. Work hard not to make the presentation informal. The more authentic and genuine the discussion, the less opportunity there is for miscommunications. 
  4. Answer the “why.” People are not stupid. If they have been actively engaged in the business, they are going to be aware of market conditions, competition, sales trends, and other issues. By providing the rationale behind a decision, the business sets the tone for what is happening and why the group should buy-in to the news and decision. Give people credit for understanding what is happening in the bigger picture. 
  5. Put it in writing. After the face-to-face meeting, put critical information in writing for people to read and re-read and to more thoroughly process what the news was and what is going to happen next. Putting things in writing also helps the leader more to articulately put their thoughts and information down in a concise manner.
  6. Be direct. There are times to be nuanced and diplomatic about what needs to be said. Words matter, and words have an impact on people. In those situations, when delivering “bad” news, it is better to be direct, honest, and tactful. Good leaders don’t blame or shift fault for bad situations or news. Likewise, they can layout the tough news in a fashion that is matter-of-fact. 

Treating people with respect and transparency is essential. How a leader handles a tough situation when it comes to bad news is important. The credibility of the business or organization is at stake, and its future success may depend on how bad news is handled.