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How to Deliver Bad News to an Employee

Blog / September 12, 2019

One of the trickiest responsibilities of a leader is to deliver bad news. You might have to fire someone, or change their responsibilities without compensating accordingly, or have a heart-to-heart about their lackluster performance. They’re not easy conversations to have. But it’s important to be honest and direct and to prepare what you’re going to say ahead of time. Here’s more advice for delivering bad news to an employee. 

Prepare ahead of time 

No matter how comfortable you think you’ll be when you sit down to deliver the bad news, write out what you’re about to say or at least rehearse it. Try to account for your employees’ objections, protests, and emotions. How will you handle that? Make sure you are clear and upfront and get your key points across in the beginning in case the employee storms out or gets overly emotional. 

Be upfront and truthful 

Don’t wish the situation away—it won’t get better on its own. And ignoring the problem will only make it worse. It’s makes you look like you don’t have the courage to face the situation, and worse, you’ll lose trust from your employees. They’ll find out the truth eventually and when they do, it’s much better if they’ve already learned it directly from you instead of relying on rumors and bad information. They’ll wonder what else you’re keeping from them and why. 

Be accountable 

Nothing undermines your authority more than blaming other people. The buck needs to stop with you, and ultimately, you’re responsible for everything that happens to your team, so take responsibility for the problem. People respect and admire that because they know it’s not easy to do. It’s a sign of confidence, integrity, and courage. Otherwise, if you try to deflect the blame, people get frustrated and angry and they lose respect for you as a person and for the role you have in the company. 

Listen up 

Regardless of the bad news you’re delivering, you’ll probably have to deal with some upset people. Respect their feelings by hearing them out. Let them vent and express their concerns instead of trying to talk over them or convince them that they should be happy or grateful. Complaining isn’t usually productive, but listening to their complaints does make your employees feel appreciated and validated. 

Communicate your plan 

People feel reassured when there’s a plan for the future. Even if they don’t love the plan, it’s helpful to let people know ahead of time what’s coming down the pike. And then follow through. If you can’t, because you have to adjust to new and developing circumstances, then update your employees on what’s next. People don’t like surprises and they don’t like change, but if they can prepare for them, it helps to soften the blow.


For tips on communicating a message clearly to your employees check out our website at

Blog written by Erin Greenhalgh