How to Deliver Bad News to Your Team with Confidence

Delivering Bad News

It’s normal for bosses everywhere to deliver bad news to their teams and others. If you’re not prepared, are unclear, or lack confidence when delivering the bad news, it will be disruptive.

Examples include:

  • -Contract canceled by the client
  • -Boss slashed the budget
  • -An influencer has withdrawn support due to company politics
  • -The team hit a wall and conflicts are unresolvable

Years ago I facilitated a project with team members from different areas of a company. The project was assigned to me by the company president and it took six months. Part of the process required team members to understand the impact their recommendations would have on the whole company. There were many conversations about the “right things” to do and how to do them in a way that worked for everyone. They did a great job and were ready for their presentation. Yet, on the day before the scheduled presentation, the company president called me. He said, “I’ve decided we are no longer interested in this project.” I was shocked! Then, I had to deliver the bad news to my team members who had worked so hard over the past six months. Needless to say, the team was upset that all their hard work ended up being a waste of time and that there was no acknowledgment from the president.

As the facilitator of this company-wide team, I did not deliver this bad news with confidence. I was upset just like the team members. That’s when I saw how important it was to take responsibility for how you deliver bad news to your team.

6 Tips to Deliver Bad News

  1. Get advice from your boss first. Remember, they’ve delivered received and delivered bad news before. Then, review the policies to see if the news will impact team members’ employment status (e.g., contract, fulltime, etc.). Also, do your venting with your boss and/or your executive coach before talking with your team.
  2. Plan before talking to your team. Gather the facts, but, do so quickly. What are the facts? How does the bad news impact your team members, the project, and others? What is being done to support your team members if they are losing their jobs? Talk with one or two key employees, human resources, and your executive coach. This is to ensure you’ve dotted your “I’s” and crossed your “T’s” before talking to your team. Remember, confidentiality is critical since leaks of information will create more upset than the actual bad news.
  3. Write out your message. Then, read it out loud several times in front of a mirror before delivering it. (Most bosses try to wing-it.) You practice in front of the mirror so you can pay attention to your non-verbal expressions. Remember, what you say and how you say it will impact your team members in ways that you may not anticipate. Choose your words responsibly and share factual data. For example: some team members may be happy to work on a new project, while others may experience emotional upsets.
  4. Stay on point. When delivering your bad news face-to-face or using conferencing and/or written communication, stay on point and be consistent. Don’t blame others and don’t make promises you cannot keep. Your team members need factual information. Items to be addressed: Can the project issues or situation be corrected? What is currently being done? Do not make false promises.
  5. Follow-up. Let me repeat … follow-up. Of these six tips, this is most often ignored. Time and patience are very important. Stay in touch with your team members and others affected by the bad news. Each day ask your team how they are doing. Encourage 1:1 and small group conferences…have them stay on point or it will only disrupt the workplace further. For example, if you didn’t handle delivering the bad news very well, apologize and ask what can be done to fix it.
  6. Debrief with the team. If the project hits a wall or the team needs reorganization, review what actions you have taken to date. Engage the team in the exercise “What worked? and What Didn’t Work?” This brainstorming process will bring objectivity to the situation, create new ideas for better results, and rebuild team spirit.

Remember, delivering bad news is never fun. However, having confidence when delivering bad news should be part of every boss’s job description!

©Jeannette Seibly, 2019

Jeannette Seibly is an award-winning champion for people and results. For the past 27 years, she has guided bosses and teams to excel. Want to improve your skills as a boss? Contact Jeannette today for straight talk with dynamic results.


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