Three simple tips for sharing bad news in tough times

by Betty Lochner on June 13, 2011

This probably won’t come as a surprise to you, but people want to be kept in the loop during difficult times.  Many of us are currently in times of uncertainly and change.  And, just like the puppies here, we want to know what’s going on.

But guess what?  Most leaders don’t communicate often and clearly enough to satisfy their employees. And, keeping staff in the loop will translate into increased commitment.

According to a recent Ouch Point from Opinion Research Corp., employees are twice as likely to go the extra mile for their company and about four times as likely to recommend it to others if they’re satisfied with the ways it communicates difficult decisions.

The survey also broke down what was most likely to receive a positive response from employees:

  • Thorough explanations of the actions taken and the reasons behind the actions
  • Being kept informed of ongoing decisions and reasons for those decisions as the economy continues to toss and turn
  • Providing early indications of impending difficult decisions so employees are not caught off-guard
  • Open and honest communication
  • Providing regular updates through frequent communication

Whether directly or indirectly affected, employees require clear, unemotional information. They want to know what, why, when and how:

  • What is happening to me?
  • Why is it happening to me?
  • When will it happen?
  • How will I be affected?

All other information, no matter how well-intentioned,  may actually do more harm than good by confusing or overly complicating the message.

Here are three simple steps to follow to improve your communication to others about difficult situations.

1. Be concise

Keep your comments short and on point. Don’t blather on and build  up to a conclusion. Just state the purpose of your communication at the outset and then say what you need to say. Your audience is more likely to hear what you have to say if they are not trying to anticipate your next sentence or wade through a long dissertation. Just keep it simple.


2. Be clear

Deliver the information in a way that can be easily explained to others. Over complicating information or using a bunch of jargon increases the chance that information will be misunderstood. And, when things aren’t clear, we tend to make stuff up to fill in the gaps. That’s the best way to start rumors that later need to be unraveled.


3. Communicate often

Not getting regular updates will have people over analyzing, speculating and worrying about things they probably don’t need to worry  about. Even if you don’t have anything new to report, give at least a weekly update.  People crave regular information, even when there’s nothing new to report.  Assure your audience of what you know and when you knew it – and communicate new information as soon as you can.  Don’t let staff hear any updates through the grapevine.

Simple, but effective: open communication is always best.


Betty Lochner is the Owner of Cornerstone Coaching & Training. She specializes in personal and organizational transformation and is the author of  Dancing with Strangers: Communication skills for transforming your life at work and at home. And, it’s now available on Kindle! Check it out.

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