How to Deliver Bad News to Your Employees

August 15, 2016 Pete Jansons


Bad news from a boss at the meeting

As a small business owner, you hold a double-edged sword when it comes to conveying information. While you get the thrill of announcing a major new client or offering a promotion, you also bear the burden of revealing budget cuts and other negative news items. The family-like atmosphere of your workplace can make communicating bad news particularly hard because of closeness to the people involved.

Part of being a leader, however, is stepping up when issues arise at your small business. A timely, honest conversation will enable both the affected employees and the company itself to move forward. Try these strategies for delivering bad news in a tactful manner:

Stop procrastinating

Fretting over an unpleasant conversation takes away energy from other activities that can grow your small business. Also, biting the bullet now may prevent larger problems down the line. Giving an employee negative feedback early in a project may allow him or her to fix errors before they become unmanageable or jeopardize her job.

Likewise, remember that half-truths and gossip travel fast among a small staff. Your slowness to divulge information employees know should be coming–such as yearly pay increases or the state of a critical account–puts everyone on edge and leaves you with a mess to clean up.

Talk face-to-face

Dump the idea of sending an email. You’ll look cowardly and uncaring. Depending upon who the news affects, invite the individual for a private chat or address the whole group in person. Hard feelings brew when others think you’re being nonchalant or evasive about an important issue.

Avoid fluff

When what you are saying is not a laughing matter, don’t resort to humor as a way to defuse tension. Similarly, beating around the bush increases anxiety levels for all sides and can leave listeners uncertain about your point. Aim for clear, calm statements focused on the problem and the consequence, such as “The client wants the project by Monday, so we will need to put in several hours this weekend” or “Profits have been less than expected for six months, so I cannot offer you a raise at this time.” Putting unpleasant news in context helps people understand why something is happening, which may make the message easier to swallow.

Address the future

After the initial shock of bad news starts to fade, the receiver undoubtedly will start worrying about what comes next. Being prepared to tackle this aspect of the conversation is essential because it shows you care about the impact of what you had to say. Maybe you’ll need to discuss how budget cuts will shift priorities. Perhaps you’ll want to establish a timeframe for revisiting the subject of a denied raise or promotion. Someone you had to dismiss might have questions regarding severance, insurance and recommendations. While you might not have all the answers, willingness to listen to concerns and deal with them to the best of your ability displays respect, which can go a long way in maintaining your reputation with your small business team.


Want more advice and resources for building your small business? Learn about the essential elements of a standout recruitment strategy


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