How Great Leaders Break Bad News to Employees


Now that you own a company, you’ll have some difficult challenges ahead of you. How do you deal with tough situation when you have to break bad news to employees? Most leaders prefer to delay as much as possible these types of uncomfortable conversations and simply hope that the problem will disappear. Other leaders prefer to prolong these situations by explaining everything they have on their mind simply to delay announcing a decision that may result in confusing your employees and wasting both your time and and your employess’.

By giving bad news to employees, leaders are often considered to procrastinate with difficult leadership issues called “cringe moments“.

Can you recall that excruciating moment when you’re saying something that may be risky, but before the employee responds? That, my friends is the “cringe moment”.

Last month I had the difficult task to let an employee now that she is not going to coordinate a project. However, I decided to avoid that “cringe moment” for as long as I could, but this has lead to a way bigger and more uncomfortable issue. I intentionally delayed speaking to Mark because I wasn’t really in my comfort zone when I had to give him negative feedback. Thus, feelings such as awkwardness and uneasiness arose. However, in my tardiness I only increased the risk factor.

Come to think of it, you are afraid of how you may feel during that short moment. And yes, I know it’s a selfish feeling, but you have to get over it and I cannot really stress that enough. Remember Old Yeller? Just pull the trigger and be done with it. Instead of fighting it you should get over with it and build a case based on strong arguments that will support your decision. Thus you will be giving context before actually making the announcement.

Great leaders do this to convince employees that they are making a rational decision. However, if the listeners are not aware of what decision you are making, they will have no context of the actual context, making all the fuss meaningless. Take it from me, delaying the announcement will only make the tough conversation more uncomfortable both for you and your employees.

Here’s how you can surpass this fear of the cringe:

If there were a pill that facilitates the way you can give bad news, pharmaceutical companies will be even more rich. The best way to deal with this is by being honest and direct. Therefore, get out of the gate swinging. On the other hand, if you want to damage the relationship with an employee beyond the point of all repair, go ahead and lie, avoid that person, be indirect and procrastinate.

Moreover, you need to be straightforward and explain the issue in a simple manner. You should start with the punchline: “Thanks for coming in, Mark. I’m sorry but you won’t be running the leadership project and I want to explain to you why I came to this decision …”

When you’ll be having a tough conversation in the future, start off with the part you dread the most. Get straight to the point and to the conclusion in the first sentence. You should cringe fast and early. Yes, it is a simple move, but most people prefer to avoid it because of the emotional courage.

So what happens after the opening act? The good news is that the bad part is mostly over. If you delivered the message in a direct and clear manner, employees will be listening to everything you are saying. At times, they might also surprise you by saying that they agree with your decision.

The light at the end of the tunnel. The moment you acknowledge that fear and awkwardness are the things that are holding you back from offering important news, feedback or decision, you will be one step closer to conquering it.

Most times, leaders tend to overestimate the difficulty of a situation and the manner in which a person is going to respond. People are not made of glass, as my grandmother used to say, so there’s no reason to avoid the inevitable. Also, most times, people prefer to receive a bad message instead of actually delivering it.

One last thing before I let you reflect: tread carefully and don’t become callous instead of being direct. The callous indifference has nothing to do with actually being direct. Actually, it’s exactly the opposite. Being direct will help you reduce the angst both parties will feel.

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