When you’re in a position of authority, you are asked to play many different roles. Influencer. Motivator. Visionary.
But there is one role nobody likes to play: The bearer of bad news.
Though delivering bad news is never fun, it is nevertheless a necessary part of being a leader. Here are four principles for delivering bad news to your team.
1. Do: Stay cool
First, take some time to evaluate your level of energy before you drop the news. The more unexpected the news, the more critical it is that you maintain a calm composure. Maintain eye contact, and speak with a strong, even sound. The news is already bad — don’t make it worse by appearing too excited or too downbeat. You have to show steadiness to keep the focus on the meaning of the message, not the feeling.
2. Don’t: Spin
Be straightforward when you deliver the news. Positivity is great, but there’s a fine line between being positive and being disingenuous. If your team starts to think you’re spinning the news to lessen the blow, you’ve just hurt your credibility. So, resist the temptation to try to frame the news through rose-colored glasses. In addition, tell your team the news as concisely as possible — don’t deliver a long preamble that couches your message in ambiguity.
3. Do: Give your vision for the future
When your team hears bad news, the best way you can help is by reassuring them that you have a plan for what’s next. Focus on the future, not the past. What will this mean for your team tomorrow? Next month? Next year? The sooner they understand what’s next, the sooner they can accept the bad news, understand the impacts, and focus forward.
4. Don’t: Use humor
Never use humor when you deliver bad news. I once worked with the CEO of a major corporation who was faced with the prospect of shutting down a location of his business. He asked my opinion about a video clip he was planning on sending to the employees informing them of the news.
When the clip began, I couldn’t believe it — He started with a joke!
You might feel like you need to lighten the mood to ease your discomfort, but acting on that feeling is completely inappropriate. By using humor — however well-intentioned — you send the message to your team that you aren’t taking the news seriously.
When you accept the responsibility of being a leader, communicating setbacks is part of the deal. By staying cool, being straightforward, and giving your vision for the future, you will reassure your team that they’re in capable hands and that together, you can navigate forward.