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Some good ways to deliver bad news

The economy is forcing businesses to tighten belts and make tough choices. That means that managers and HR directors are left with the task of delivering bad news while simultaneously trying to keep morale high. The bad news might be layoffs or office closings, or it might be that raises or promotions are frozen, or that hours or benefits are cut. Communicating bad news is a daunting but very important task. If you're one of the people on the firing line, here are a few resources that might help you to prepare:

  • Leadership consultant John Baldoni thinks there is much that we can learn from the way that President Obama communicates. He discusses this in his Harvard Business blog posting How a good leader delivers bad news.
  • It doesn't get much worse than telling someone they have a life-threatening and potentially fatal disease. Dr. Robert Buckman is a cancer specialist who developed protocols for delivering bad news and he teaches doctors and business executives his methodology. He discusses his ideas about good ways to deliver bad news in this interview with Curtis Sittenfeld of Fast Company.
  • Laying someone off can be very stressful for the manager that has to deliver the news. In fact, some research studies demonstrate a relationship between this task and subsequent health problems, such as ulcers, headaches and heart trouble. Health reporter Kyung M. Song of the Seattle Times takes the pulse of managers and how they handle the task and offers some layoff "golden rules."
  • Also, see our prior post on coping with tough times for more resources on crisis communication and helping employees cope with change.
Preparing can help - but don't underestimate how stressful it can be for managers to deliver bad news . Your Employee Assistance Program is not just for employees - it's for managers, too. It's great to know when to refer an employee for help with stress - but don't forget to take care of yourself, too!

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