Communicating Bad News at Work – Part 1

Bad news is rife in the world of business and employment today. It’s a fact of life as companies struggle to get to grips with the subdued economy. If you’re managing or supervising staff, there’s a fair chance you’ll find yourself delivering unsavoury news to your team at one point or another, and how you choose to communicate that news can make a huge difference.”No one ever wants to receive bad news, and no one wants to communicate it either,” says business communications specialist Lynn Gaertner-Johnston. “It is a huge communication challenge that requires great care, especially if the news is upsetting rather than merely inconvenient.”Breaking such news can be a nerve racking and difficult experience for even the most seasoned business communicator, but if you find yourself passing on bad tidings at work consider following some of these tips to help ease the pain:

Use multiple channels: don’t just focus on e-mail. E-mail tends to be a cold and sterile medium, unfeeling and stark. While e-mail may well be the most efficient communication tool, you should try to augment it with other, more personal channels of communication. Pick up the phone, arrange a person-to-person meetings or organise an online meetings or video conference to add a more personal and caring element to the message.

Keep people updated: there’s nothing worse than dropping a bombshell of an announcement and then clamming up. Keep the information flowing, provide frequent updates and volunteer additional information as it becomes available. People tend to take bad news on-board gradually, but once the central message sinks in they’ll be looking for more information. Be sure to provide it if you can.

Don’t try to hide it: shielding people from bad news by concealing it is always a bad move. When the inevitable happens and the news leaks out, the fallout will be far worse. Be open, honest and up front about the reality of the situation.

Don’t delay: sitting on the fence isn’t a particularly clever strategy when it comes to delivering bad news. When the news does break the fact that you knew about it for some time before passing it on will erode trust and raise suspicion about your motives. The trust of your team is hard won and crucial to your success… don’t jeopardise it.

Be professional: use appropriate language tailored to your audience, and always be professional. Take particular care before deciding to use emoticons like frowning faces and slang terms.

Temper the message: if you can do so legitimately, try and include a snippet of good news to soften the blow. Downsizing a department is very bad news for some, of course, but if it ultimately saves people’s jobs and makes the company more viable that’s good.

Don’t gloss over the negatives: while highlighting a positive aspect or outcome is a good thing, don’t attempt to disguise the negative message with positive language and corporate “spin” for the sake of it. Bad news doesn’t become any sweeter with a saccharine veneer.

Don’t forget to look out for part two of this article for more tips to help you deliver bad news more effectively.(Inspired by an entry in Lynn Gaertner-Johnston’s excellent Better Writing at Work newsletter)