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Remove the sting from bad news

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in Business Etiquette,Workplace Communication

Delivering bad news to your employees can sting. It’s not easy to tell people what they don’t want to hear.

There’s a right and a wrong way to conduct a difficult conversation. If you drop a bombshell and then walk away, you’re asking for trouble. You may leave stunned listeners angry and hurt.

If you’re too nice, on the other hand, you can muddy your message. Hemming and hawing—or apologizing—might leave others confused about what you’re really trying to say.

Clarity works best. By expressing your points succinctly and anticipating and answering employees’ questions and concerns, you’ll minimize pain all around. Other tips:

Share your reasoning. Explain how you arrived at your conclusion. Even if people don’t like what you’re announcing, they’ll appreciate your willingness to open up about how and why you’re making such a hard call.

If you’re facing cuts, for example, show your team how sales declines affect your firm’s financials. Then invite their input on what they would do given the need to control expenses.

Let people vent. Cutbacks or layoffs will trigger animosity. Listen to aggrieved employees without interrupting to defend your actions.

“You don’t want to put people out who are angry and disgruntled,” says a CEO who let go of half his employees.

Mitigate the damage. Take steps to lessen the blow. If you must terminate someone during lean times, provide as much advance notice as possible and offer to help in finding a new job. Joy Schoffler, founder of a public-relations firm, paid an outgoing employee’s severance out of her own pocket as a show of remorse.

— Adapted from “Damage Control,” Alix Stuart, www.inc.com.

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