Skip to Content

How to Deliver Bad News to Your Employees

“Delivering bad news is tough. It’s even harder when you don’t agree with the message or decision you’re communicating,” the Harvard Business Review notes.

“Maybe you have to tell your star performer that HR turned down her request for a raise or to inform your team that the company doesn’t want them working from home any longer. Should you toe the line and act like you agree with the decision or new policy? Or should you break ranks and explain how upset you are too?”

Some advice from the experts:

Prepare for the conversation:  “Be sure to have all your ducks in a row before talking with your employees. Specifically, you need to know how the decision was made, who was consulted, what other possibilities were discussed, and the rationale behind the final outcome.”

Be direct and avoid mixed messages: “One of the biggest factors in whether employees will listen to and accept bad news is how it’s delivered. Watch your body language.”

Explain how the decision was made:  “Studies show that people are willing to accept an unfavorable outcome if they believe the decision-making process was sound.”

Allow for venting, not debate: “Once you’ve delivered the news and explained the decision-making process, ask the individual or group for a reaction.”

Focus on the future: “Once you’ve heard them out, take a break — this may be a few minutes or a few days — and let people process the information. Then help the team or individual move forward.”

Robert Bies, a professor of management at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business: “I have spent more than 20 years researching how managers deliver bad news, and a few rules and commandments have consistently emerged as best practices. Here are 10 of them. Like the more well‐known set of 10 Commandments, these rules provide an ideal ethical guideline—but they also prove difficult to always follow.”

“If you follow these commandments, the task of delivering bad news will become easier, though it will never be easy. These commandments may be difficult and challenging to live and work by, but they will provide an ideal moral and ethical compass for what leadership should strive to achieve and what appropriate actions it should pursue.”