Communicating, whose etymology derives from the Greek word "to put in common", is one of the main missions of the manager. Communicating the good news, but also the bad news, such as budget cuts, saying no to a promotion, bad results, etc.
Although it is difficult to give bad news, it’s part of the life of a team and a company. So don't shy away from it, or be too blunt about it! The situation could get worse and you can put your credibility at risk with your team.
So, what is the best way to deliver bad news to your team? What should you do, and what should you avoid?
Tips to deliver bad news
A project stops, a budget or team is reduced, a pay raise not granted... Bad news can happen in the day-to-day of any manager. So it's best to be prepared!
- Start by assuming your role as manager. Whether the decision comes from you or your hierarchy, whether you agree with it or not, it is up to you to announce the bad news to your team. To do this, take ownership of the information. What is the context of this decision? Why now? Were there alternatives considered? Who is behind this decision? The better informed you are, the more comfortable you will be in explaining the bad news to the person you are dealing with and therefore in discussing it in depth and in a constructive way.
- Once you have taken the decisions or have been made aware of it, do not delay the communication and set up an appointment as soon as possible with the people impacted by the decision. If you send an invitation by e-mail, be careful about the words you use in the title of your meeting. In order to prepare your team members for the announcement, it is better to call it an "important update" rather than a simple "team lunch". Also think about a suitable location, which best suits the personality of your interlocutor: in the office if you can book a quiet room? Or on the contrary, outside, in a more neutral place?
- Then, work on your speech and the key messages you want to convey. Your interlocutor must quickly understand what it is about, so make sure you are transparent and clear, while showing some benevolence. Above all, work on your catchphrase, which will set the tone of your conversation. Rather than "I think (it implies that this can still change) that I will rather work on the project with another profile than yours (the interlocutor feels rejected)", try instead "I have decided that I will continue the project with a tech' profile for the following reasons". Stay factual and give rational arguments to help your team member understand your decision. This phase of explanation and contextualization is very important: your interlocutor needs to know that the decision has been thought through, and in the fairest possible way. Is the person in front of you resigned, angy or demotivated by the news? Take the time to listen to what they have to say.
Attitudes to avoid
Now that you have in mind the few key steps of your announcement, you need to make sure you don’t make mistakes in the way you communicate the bad news. The situation is probably already complex, so be careful you don’t make it even more complex and painful for the team.
To help you, here are some things that you absolutely need to avoid:
- Wait until the last moment to announce the news. Nothing is worse than announcing a decision at the last minute and not allowing your employee to digest the information. Moreover, rumors and gossip will quickly reach your team members, and most certainly in a distorted way. Your team members will arrive at the meeting full of preconceived ideas, resentment and mistrust.
- Don’t assume, hide behind your hierarchy. Although the decision did not come from you (avoid the "They have taken the decision to let you go") it is important to assume the news, you can explain your personal point of view later on, with the people impacted by the announcement. This is the time to be professional. Hiding behind numbers is not a better solution. Saying "We have to reduce the teams because our growth is only x% this year" makes the decision more inhuman.
- Try to compensate with good news. If you make an appointment to talk about a sensitive topic, be sure to stick to that topic and get to the point. Your interlocutor is probably anxious, take this into account. And don't be fooled, just because you announce bad news doesn't mean you have to compensate with good news! "We are freezing salaries this year, but the company is opening a brand new canteen at the end of the month" is not likely to be well received...
- Not following up. Don't forget what comes next! Explain in detail how the situation will evolve, explain what will result from the decision. Don't forget, the role of the manager is to reassure. To do this, do not leave your team members in the dark, give them an opportunity to bounce back.
It's quite clear. Preparation and clarity of the messages and good follow-up are key to deliver bad news in a good way. With the right method, much of the work is already done. Also, don't hesitate to prepare for these situations with a tool like Popwork that can help you prepare the announcement, avoid misunderstandings, and then follow up on reactions and identify any weak signals within the team.