Good news is easy to deliver. Bad news -- to employees, when layoffs might be imminent or cuts need to be made, or to teammates, when work won't be completed on time or commitments won't be met, or customers, when deliveries will be late or high expectations may not be met -- is much tougher to deliver. That's why many companies, and many people, fall back on "corporate" methods of communicating: memos, canned announcements, and group emails, boilerplate stuff theoretically intended to ensure "clear communication" but that is actually designed to give the person delivering the bad news some distance.

After all, if I deliver bad news in an email, I won't have to face your reaction, right?

Here's a better way to deliver bad news -- to a customer, to a teammate, to an employee, to anyone.

Do it yourself, and do it in person -- or as close to in-person as you can possibly get.

Keep in mind that doesn't always apply when you have good news to share, especially when you're in a leadership position. Sure, maybe you really did do all the work. Maybe you really did overcome every obstacle. Maybe you really did run a diverse, cross-departmental, multifunctional, high-performance team who could not have succeeded without your masterful leadership touch. Maybe you really were the hero.

None of that matters. Always give another person the glory. Pick a key subordinate who played a major role. Pick a person who could use a confidence boost from a dose of public acclaim. Let that person share the good news. Everyone already knows you were in charge, so celebrate the accomplishment through others. Stand back and let your team shine.

(And if you don't run your own business, do your best to keep someone higher in the company food chain from making the announcement, especially if that person had no direct role. Otherwise, your team's efforts are devalued in the eyes of others and, much worse, in their own eyes.)

But when you have bad news to deliver, it's your job to share it.

Maybe, ultimately, it was not your decision to cut jobs. Maybe you had no input but are still the person required to enforce a major shift in policy. When you are in charge, you deliver all bad news.

And do so in person. If you have bad news to deliver to a group of employees, get the group together. Or if there are individual repercussions resulting from that bad news, talk to each person separately. If you can't do it in person, do it by video or phone. Never choose a method that makes the communication one way.

That way you can answer tough questions, you can take responsibility, you can empathize, and you can solve any problems it's possible to solve. Sometimes the bad news you deliver won't turn out to be bad news at all -- but only if you're in a position to adapt and respond.

Maybe a late delivery won't be a problem if you expedite certain portions of the order. Maybe a new team assignment won't be a problem if the employee can work from home more often. Maybe teammates will step in and help you when you get behind -- but they won't be able to unless they know that you're struggling.

Deliver bad news in person. It's not just the right thing to do. It's the most effective way to share what you need to share.

Even though it might seem like the most painful way to share it.

Published on: Jul 27, 2017
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