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3 Tips for Delivering Bad News to Employees

February 10, 2016, 1:00 AM UTC
Courtesy of Cisco

The MPW Insider network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question:What’s the best way to deliver bad news to your team? is by Cassandra Frangos, VP global executive talent and organizational design at Cisco.

Delivering bad news can be hard on the recipient as well as the messenger. If not handled carefully, acquisitions and unexpected leadership changes, can cause organizations to stall. And yet, sometimes the trickiest news of all is that which affects just a single individual.

When someone receives negative news that impacts them personally — a lost promotion, a project halted, an unhappy customer — their ego takes a hit, not to mention their perceived impact on their career. If not managed well, the news can throw an employee off guard and impact their personal performance, ultimately impacting bigger company initiatives as well.

So if you have to be the bearer of bad tidings, then the best thing you can do is make it personal. And I don’t mean that in a negative way. What I mean is that delivering bad news requires a personal and compassionate touch that is also data driven. When I have the good fortune to tell someone she landed a spot on the executive team, I also have the requisite responsibility of advising a number of others that they didn’t make the cut. Top jobs don’t come along every day and the news can knock people for a loop. These are a few of the best practices that help me minimize an individual’s personal exposure to bad news, allowing them to bounce back faster:

See also: 6 Things to Ask Yourself Before Delivering Bad News

Consider personal context
Get to know the individual’s circumstances before the news hits. Professionally, has he/she missed out on other big career opportunities? Personally, does this cause disruption to their family? These are the conditions that will impact how he/she receives the news. It won’t change the bottom line, but it enables you to customize the message to help them understand and accept it.

Focus on facts
The delicate nature of news that impacts someone personally makes it easy for one to veer off track. You want to sprint through the “talking points” in order to cut to their questions and concerns. Yet, spending time presenting the necessary facts can take some the sting out of the situation. Fact: The function you lead is changing direction. The merger makes the operation redundant. Everyone on your team needs to be reassigned. Basic facts presented plainly send a message: This is not a reflection on your leadership, the business has changed.

Communicate options
One of the worst parts of receiving bad news is navigating the loss of control. It’s easier for people to roll with the frustration if they understand their options. With that in mind, I build a part of the interaction around identifying opportunities to take action. If their primary project is being shut down, which other teams are looking for new talent or a fresh perspective? If they received a negative comment from a peer on a
n assessment, what can they do to turn it around?

Above all, making it personal, to me, means treating the conversation as one of the most important things I’ll do all day. I take the time to consider the context, my approach, minimize the personal disruption for the individual, and make a bad situation a little bit better by being authentic and honest.