Spotlight on breaking bad news

Furniture group MFI is the latest manufacturer to announce major job losses, cutting almost 1,500 jobs. And Cable & Wireless has also announced it is to halve its workforce.

It’s often down to HR to be the bearer of bad news. But there are ways to do this without causing more upset than necessary.

Break the news early
Talking around the subject doesn’t help anyone, and a drip feed of information only extends the agony. Give all the facts up front so that everyone involved is on an equal footing.

Share opinions
If the recipient of the bad news is angry, remember they are more likely to be angry with the situation, rather than with you. Listen to what they are saying and stay calm.

Think about questions
Be absolutely clear about the facts and the answers you will give before you start the conversation.

Don’t be thrown
When people receive bad news they often minimise it, claiming that it doesn’t really matter or they aren’t surprised. Don’t accept this at face value.

Continue the conversation, perhaps by showing your surprise at their reaction or sharing how you would have felt if you had been on the receiving end.

If you show you understand their emotional reaction, they will find it easier to listen to the facts and talk openly with you.

Go somewhere quiet
Find a place where you won’t be disturbed and leave plenty of time. You don’t want to be called away in the middle of a difficult conversation. Make sure mobiles are switched off too.

Discuss all the options
Make sure you do this before going on to agree a specific path of action with the person. This will increase your chances of choosing the correct course of action, rather than simply going for the first, most obvious one.

Leave with clear actions
Try to end each conversation with an agreement on what to do next, even if it is only to talk again.

Don’t put it off
The longer you leave it, the harder it will get, and the greater the chances of the other person hearing the news on the grapevine, instead of from you.

The 4 stages of bad news

  1. Preparation: we are much more likely to share bad news effectively if we are well prepared. Think about what medium you will use and the environment you want to create. Sacking someone by text message is unlikely to leave them feeling good about the experience.
  2. Declaration: don’t waste time prevaricating – give the facts up front. The way you frame the news can also minimise its negative impact.
  3. Discussion: it can help to ask the person receiving the bad news open-ended questions. However, focus on listening to what they say and aim to talk for less time than they do.
  4. Conclusion: now it’s time to agree what happens next. Finish by confirming what has been said, what has been agreed, and what happens when.

The Mind Gym: wake your mind up is published by Time Warner books and is available for 12.99.
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