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5 keys to giving bad news at work

March 17, 2020

This is one of the greatest challenges in the world of work. Learn how to do it.

5 min read

The opinions expressed by collaborators are personal.

5 keys to giving bad news at work5 keys to giving bad news at work

One of the biggest challenges in the world of work is communicating bad news: from restructuring to layoffs, or the reduction of benefits to employees, or changing market situations that affect the activity carried out.

Business life is not always as simple or as shiny as their own social networks and those of their collaborators show, since the dynamics always involve risks and problems. In this sense, good communication is key to better face these bad times. Generally one thinks of highlighting the good and highlighting the achievements. So what happens when bad news needs to be communicated?

The emotional factor

Any crisis or contingency within the organization is crossed by the emotional as a determining factor. The way in which it is communicated, the words that are used, and the way of measuring the impact that this content will have on each of the collaborators, is what will allow us to successfully overcome (or not) the problem of the moment.

We are emotional beings; so communication, although sometimes it needs to be cold and structured, must consider this plane of existence: people feel, and companies, too. Therefore it is important to focus on the essential; not go over the top and avoid gilding the pill with aspects that are not relevant to the central point of communication.

5 keys to giving bad news at work

To carry out the process of communicating bad news in the workplace you can apply these five keys:

1. Planning

A fundamental aspect is planning the different crisis or conflict situations that the company may have. This will allow a framework to be established on which to implement the communication process.

In Latin America I was able to verify that most companies pay more attention to lawyers than to communicators, since they will be in charge of implementing the appropriate strategies; And, incidentally, lawyers cannot always assume that role.

2. Have all the information

It is essential to have available the entire context framework through which the company makes the decisions that are communicated. If that does not exist, or the information is weak or false, the collaborators will notice immediately, automatically lowering the credibility not only of the company, but of the spokesperson in charge of transmitting the messages. It is important to explain the reasons, what was the process followed to make those decisions, and, in doing so, impact not only the rational mind, but also the emotional mind.

3. Get straight to the point

It is essential that the messages are synthetic, clear, orderly and that they avoid all kinds of doubts. Preparing the strategy and training the spokespersons is essential for this. On the second, we call channels to the forms that will be used to communicate: writing, face to face, mass communication, in cascade (hierarchical positions first and these, to their teams), are just some of the possibilities.

4. We communicate with gestures and tone of voice. Then come the words

Of 100% of human communication, 55% is gestural, and 38% is tone of voice. The words occupy the remaining 7%, without this meaning that they are not important: quite the opposite. What is important is that the person in charge of communicating bad news needs to be concordant in what his body expresses, his voice and the words he speaks. Any resonance to the contrary will negatively affect the process, and therefore will detract from credibility.

5. Spaces of relief and focus on the future

When the bad news is broadcast there are many doubts and concerns. It is important to create a space for the relief of these people, who could lead the spokesperson in the same act. This would serve as containment by maintaining the position that the spokesperson represents (in this case, that of the company), and listening and even taking notes. The goal is to allow the emotional relief that is needed in the face of possible shock from the bad news. However, it is not recommended that the spokesperson participate or promote a debate on the subject. In this case, I suggest hiring a change management facilitator to carry out that instance.

Regarding focusing on the future, it is about integrating the concerns that have arisen, and turning them into thinking tools as a team. A simple question of the style “What can we do as a team to overcome this?” It could serve to give a new context and resignify (give a new meaning) to what is being lived.

Here it is important to know that all bad news that implies changes, disassociations or losses, makes people face a duel; and, as such, one must consider the transit through the stages of crisis, denial, anger, depression, acceptance and learning.

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