How to deliver bad news to your team

#39, Dec 22, 2023

Vasi is here πŸ™‚

This is the last dose for 2023.
3717932 drafts, the coffee-driven days for editing, Friday mornings to send a new dose, 21 doses sent, and the increase in pill-ers from 1,063 to 1,322.


(from Svetla, Sonny, Derek, Desislava, Max, Audrey, Yana, Vesela, Haralambi, Vladislav, Neli, Maya, Bob, Mila, Koki, Monica, Dragi, Maksim, Kristiyan, Stephane, Pedro, Martin, Miglena, Kristian, Justin, Ema, Sara, Emil, Luc, Jeff, Andi, Dimitar, Alan, Halimatou)…

It was an honor for me and my gang

Song of this year

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes, 49 seconds.

What’s the issue about?

How to deliver bad news to your team?

Hari and I recently recorded an episode of our podcast in which we discussed the following case study of a team leader:

“I have several people on the team who are up for promotion. But I only have the budget for one of them. How do I tell someone on my team that they won’t be getting a promotion?”

This may be the shortest dose. When I started writing it, I had a simple answer to this question: be open and honest. Without sugarcoating, but not being an @β€Œsshole.

Well, everything has pitfalls.

(otherwise life wouldn’t be so interesting…)

Why is it important to be open and direct with delivering?

The more you withhold information from your people, the more empty fields you leave in their minds.

❗ Scarce information β†’ More empty fields in people’s minds β†’ More room for their own interpretations and conspiracy theories β†’ πŸ™

Tip: Be open and direct with sharing information when it will be useful for the other person.

Before Delivering: Prepare Yourself

1. Think about what’s your goal for delivering the bad news

(to ease your conscience, to stall and buy time, to make your people aware, or to find out what their real needs are).

❗ Lack of a clear goal β†’ Vague message β†’ Miscommunication β†’ Wrong Expectations by your people β†’ πŸ™

2. Prioritize your goals: choose from 1 to 2 of your goals

❗ More goals β†’ Vague message β†’ Miscommunication β†’ Wrong Expectations by your people β†’ πŸ™

Tip: Share what is most important to your people. See The Inverted Pyramid approach to presenting information.

3. Anticipate peoples’ objections:

Think about what objections your people might have. Think in advance how you’ll handle the objections.

❗ Being unprepared for objections when delivering β†’ A lot of improvisation on your part β†’ Shifting the focus of the meeting β†’ Vague message β†’ Miscommunication β†’ Wrong Expectations by your people β†’ πŸ™

Tip: Check out how to anticipate objections.

Deliver the news with the intent people to hear the news

Here I will look at the case where you want people to be clear about the news that the budget is limited so that only 1 person on the team gets a promotion. And you decided it wasn’t them.

You deliver the bad news in a 1:1 meeting:

1️⃣ Warn the other person that you are going to tell them bad news.

2️⃣ Deliver the news.

3️⃣ Present their objections you’ve anticipated.

4️⃣ Say what your criteria were to make the decision.

5️⃣ Say that your decision is final and cannot be changed.

Warn them that you will deliver the bad news:

If you are in a plane that is about to crash – the captain will warn: “Brace for impact!”

In this case: “I’m coming straight in with some bad news. I imagine you will be very disappointed after hearing what I have to tell you. But I want to explain my decision and what you can expect from here on…”

In this way, you make it easier for the person to hear and accept the bad news. You give them space to feel bad.

❗ If you are not honest β†’ The person will feel manipulated β†’ The person will lose trust in you β†’ πŸ™

Deliver the news:

❗ Too much rambling β†’ Too much sugarcoating β†’ The guy will feel like an idiot β†’ You’ll feel like an idiot β†’ πŸ™

❗ Too direct β†’ 1:1 meeting that is a monologue β†’ The person will feel you are rude β†’ Loss of trust in you β†’ πŸ™

Tip: Do it with care for the person – give them time to understand what he heard, leave pauses in the conversation so that it does not turn into a monologue. Be open to listening to them.

Present their objections you’ve anticipated:

Handle their objections. People will think them anyway. Introduce them right from the start so they can hear what you have to say.

“Now that I’ve told you the news, you’ll probably find my decision unfair. And you’ll probably feel that ___, ___, and ___. I understand this and that’s why I want to tell you what criteria I had to make the decision.”

Say what your criteria were to make the decision:

❗ Too much emphasis on your limitations β†’ Justification of the company β†’ Your position weakens β†’ You lose your authority β†’ πŸ™

Tip: Share only once what limitation you have. Stand by your criteria.

Say that your decision is final and cannot be changed:

❗ You only say it once β†’ You think the person understood you the first time β†’ Actually the person understood something different β†’ Miscommunication β†’ Wrong Expectations by your people β†’ πŸ™

Tip: Follow the principle of overcommunication. It is necessary to communicate the message several times to ensure that you will be heard and understood.

Tip: Emphasize how you want to be heard.

After Delivering: Do follow-ups

One of your most important jobs as a leader is to be there for your people.

Make 1:1 meetings with your people in which you are in listening mode: find out how they feel after the bad news, do they have any ambiguities, and what they understand.

Tip: Don’t Assume and ask validating questions.

Secondly, you should also be in research mode: research what is the real situation of the people.

Tip: How to get others to tell you the truth?

Tip: Ask the right questions to explore the real needs of the other person: check out the SPIN Model.

If you want to explore more on the subject… with a pinch of humor

For those who have a leader telling them they won’t get a promotion – this comic by Bob from Work Chronicles.

See the “great” way Chandler and Monica from the β€˜Friends’ series deliver bad news.

Stay Healthy, my dear Pill-er!
– Vasi


See you again in 2024. I’m going to make Christmas cookies with my son to leave for Santa. To have family gatherings (which will test my soft skills!). To watch β€˜Westworld’ series with popcorn late into the night.

In other words, I’m going on vacation.

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