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The Right Way to Deliver Big News to Employees (Good or Bad)

Nicole Klemp
Nicole Klemp

If you lead a team of people, you’ve likely had to share important news with them at some point, possibly many times over. Whether the news is positive, negative—or a little bit of both—appropriately conveying the message can sometimes be difficult.

Nearly 30 percent of workers surveyed by Robert Half said communication and diplomacy are the areas where leaders need to improve most. Whether it’s a merger or acquisition, a reorganization, or even downsizing, the way you choose to present big news to your team is almost as important as the news itself.

Be transparent and specific about how big changes will impact your people.

“From time to time, every leader has to deliver news that is hard for employees to hear. Even when businesses are doing well, organizational and structural change is to be expected, and acquisitions, reorganizations, or policy changes can affect people’s jobs in ways that create feelings of fear, anger, or sorrow,” writes Liz Kislik in the Harvard Business Review. When delivering news like this, it’s essential to plan ahead and equip other leaders and managers with a consistent message.

The news that you probably have (or will have) to share most often isn’t necessarily good or bad; it just means things will be… different. Moreover, the one thing you can bet on is that whatever the news is, it will be interpreted differently by different people.

Some employees thrive on change and will naturally be excited about the possibilities it can provide. Others may be more pessimistic, or perhaps, have had a bad experience in the past that makes them more wary of organizational change.

Kislik recommends leaders “describe the organizational pain and how the new solution alleviates it.” Also be prepared to answer employees’ questions and share with them the specifics on how this news impacts their day-to-day.

“Personalize both the impact and the resolution. If you don’t, employees may not understand which specifics apply to them, or even how the company is providing support or services to help them cope,” she writes.

Bad news is best served with a side of honesty and empathy.

Let’s be honest, delivering bad news sucks, especially when it’s to people you care about. However, there are ways to present things in the workplace that allow employees to keep their emotions in check and their dignity intact. Being direct, honest, are empathetic are key.

Provide all the facts you have available and allow your employees the time they need to process the news and ask questions. If they have questions you can’t answer, assure them you’ll do your best to get answers for them as quickly as possible.

“While the interaction is almost always uncomfortable, leaders should confront reality by describing things as they really are instead of sugarcoating the news, says Matthew Randall, executive director of the Center for Professional Excellence at York College of Pennsylvania, in an interview with Fast Company. “Refrain from evading the facts or spinning the truth just to ease the outcome,” he says.

Underpromise, overdeliver on the good stuff.

Hopefully, you’re delivering good news more often than not. Sharing positive changes and announcements with your team can be exciting. But beware of getting overzealous and promising too much too soon.

For example, you get verbal (informal) approval and budget to promote one of your top employees—something they’ve been anxiously waiting for. If you choose to let them know that something is in the works, be careful not to make it sound like a “done deal” until it actually is. Should something happen (e.g., budget cuts, change in priorities) before the promotion is formally approved and paperwork is filed, you may have to go back on your word—and end up with a great employee who is now a disgruntled employee.

In most cases, waiting to spill the beans until after the news is official is the best approach. So if/when that good thing does happen, it will be all the more exciting and fun to share.

Looking to improve your communication style? Check out these 5 Tips For Better Internal Employee Communications for a fresh take.

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