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Give bad news in a good way

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in Leaders & Managers,People Management

Leaders who engineer frequent rounds of layoffs feel the pain. They often report worsening health and disruptive sleep patterns.

If your job involves delivering bad news to employees, the blowback can sting. The simple act of communicating something awful (“Your job is being eliminated”) can wreak havoc on your emotions.

One of the most popular ways to deliver bad news is also among the least effective. Adopting a stoic attitude and distancing yourself may seem like a sensible approach. But trying not to ponder the personal repercussions of what you’re telling someone—and stripping away feeling—can backfire.

Employees crave a human connection when they’re on the receiving end of bad news. They will respond better if they detect your concern and empathy.

Researchers have found that leaders gain an edge when they inject an appropriate amount of feeling into the conversation. The distress level drops when the bearer of bad news speaks with compassion.

Presenting the context of the adverse action—and emphasizing fairness even if the news is bleak—can tamp down anger or anguish. Employees may not like what they hear, but they’re more apt to accept it if you speak with a mix of heartfelt concern and clarity about the basis for the decision.

Because it’s uncomfortable to dish out bad news, it’s tempting to evade or stammer in your attempt to explain the “why.” Rehearse so that you can speak with confidence, even if it hurts to convey the message.

— Adapted from “How to Soften the Blow of Bad News,” Jamil Zaki, www.wsj.com.

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