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On Leaders Giving Bad News

Courage is a prerequisite for leadership and how leaders give bad news speaks volumes regarding their courage. Most of us don’t like delivering bad news. Many fear giving bad news. Yet courage is not defined by the absence of fear. Courage is taking action in the face of and despite fear.

A recently completed study by BYU linguistics professor Alan Manning and the University of South Alabama’s Nicole Amare, indicates that people want their leaders to be direct when giving bad news. No hemming and hawing allowed.

The study finds that beating around the bush with chatter like, “This is very difficult for me and I’m sure you know that we haven’t been happy with your performance so we are going to have to let you go,” are sub-optimal. As is the very direct Trumpian, “Your Fired!”

The research found that people prefer a tiny buffer like, “We have to talk. I’m sorry, but we have to let you go.” Short and sweet, proceeded with a quick buffer is the way to go.

Folks, criticism without compassion is brutality.

For leaders, your skill in delivering bad news speaks volumes about your character, courage, and empathy… all important ingredients of leadership. To that end, I’d suggest these simple rules of giving bad news:

  1. Don’t put it off
  2. Don’t beat around the bush
  3. Soften it with a very short preamble buffer like “we have to talk”
  4. Be compassionate
  5. Don’t use terms like every and always
  6. Focus on behavior and specifics
  7. Don’t be personal

Let’s talk about giving bad news and leadership

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