Don’t shoot the manager: How to deliver bad news

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Whether it’s issuing disciplinary warnings or terminating staff, HR managers are often the bearers of bad news.

And although it is unpleasant, it is necessary. A recent article in Forbes, ‘How Great Leaders Deliver Bad News’, described a few ways to deliver bad news properly and respectfully.

Start by addressing the issue, don’t pretend it isn’t happening or it will simply disappear if you ignore it.

Instead, have a plan for communicating this, “even though it will be uncomfortable, embarrassing, awkward, even painful.”

This plan should include the following steps:

  • Be accurate: Don’t spin or underplay it, you’ll lose your credibility and your people will think you don’t respect them enough to tell the truth.
  • Take responsibility: If you have made a mistake then you need to own up to it.

“When a leader...takes full responsibility for whatever he or she has sends a powerful signal of confidence, honour and courage.” 

  • Listen: Let people be upset, don’t try and stifle their natural reactions. You cannot expect to deliver bad news and then simply walk away.
  • Say what the next step is: This is dependent on the situation, where necessary you need to have a plan for how the problem with be dealt with and what the next step.

“The natural corollary of taking responsibility for the bad news is to say how you’re going to turn it around – and people expect and want that from their leaders.”

  • Do what you say: Every promise or commitment made needs to be kept and followed through.

“If you go through all the steps above, and then don’t take the actions needed to address the situation, you’ll probably be seen in an even worse light than if you did nothing."

You can read the full article here.

Related story: Evil HR Lady: “HR needs to learn to communicate”


  • Tash on 19/08/2013 9:41:58 a.m.

    Hi there,
    Very good points and managers need to remember to adhere to the advice given. However, I don't believe that HR should be the bearer of bad news. We are not decision makers, especially in disciplinary issues. We provide advice and suppor the manager who is the decision maker. HR is not here to dismiss, discipline or performance manage employees. Their direct manager is and HR is the support and advice function to ensure it is done correctly and honourably.

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