Communicating Bad News at Work – Part 2

Chances are you’ve read or heard more bad news on the jobs front over the last week. There’s no getting around it, things are tough out there for employers and employees alike, and are likely to remain so for the short term. Sooner or later in your working life your going to encounter bad news, and, if you’re progressing in your career, and are responsible for a team of people, the job of communicating that bad news to others is going to fall on your shoulders. This week we continue with our tips to help make passing on bad news at work a little less painful for everyone involved.

  • Speed and consistency are paramount: when you’re communicating bad news you can’t rely on the trickle-down approach to spread the word — have a plan for getting a consistent, coherent message to all relevant people in the organisation as soon as possible once the news breaks. The last thing you want is delays feeding rumour and speculation.
  • A little compassion goes a long way: you’re probably sorry to be the bearer of bad news, and genuinely regret the circumstances that make it necessary. But the pressure of passing on the bad news can easily mask that. Don’t let it. Showing that you empathise with people, and telling them that you’re sorry about a situation isn’t an admission of guilt or liability. It simply shows that you care.
  • Have answers, or be prepared to get them: be ready to answer the obvious questions… the what, why, when, where, who and how type queries that are bound to be at the forefront of people’s minds when they learn the news. Include as much of the information that’s likely to be important to them as you can. If you don’t have access to all the pertinent details, be honest about it, but endeavour to get the information you need as soon as you can. Lack of information can erode confidence and cause commitment to ebb at the worst possible time.
  • Tailor the message to your audience: consider your audience, and customise your message to address their particular needs in a given situation. Passing on bad news to clients will require a different set of information delivered in a different way that communicating the same news to your co-workers. Different groups are also likely to have varying questions, their responses driven by a different priorities.
  • Highlight mitigation: be sure to mention everything the company is doing to minimise the impact of the bad news.
  • In black and white: always write down your bad-news communications, even if you’re delivering them verbally. Without a script to refer to it’s far too easy to make a mistake with figures, fudge important details or make unrealistic commitments.
  • Keep your word: If you say you’re going to give everyone an update on Monday morning, be ready with an update on Monday morning. If the information you’d hoped for isn’t available, say so… that’s an update. Remember, broken promises make bad news worse, and just erode your credibility.
  • When things improve… tell people: when things turn around, and the news gets better, don’t forget to communicate and share the positive turn of events too. A project finally completed, a new order one, short-work-weeks returned to full-time-work, new jobs. Whatever it is, you should share the news and celebrate the turnaround together.

(Inspired by an entry in Lynn Gaertner-Johnston’s excellent Better Writing at Work newsletter)

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