How To Deliver Bad News At Work

January 10, 2017 by

Bad News At WorkYou may work at one of the most positive workplaces in the world, but invariably, there will be times when you must deliver bad news at work to a team or a colleague. We’ve all been there. Probably the most visceral example of this is when you have to lay someone off. Many of us have been the recipient. Just in November 2016 alone, more than 26,000 workers were terminated.1

Certainly, it is never easy to deliver bad news to a colleague. With that said, here are 3 useful tips for “softening the blow” to the colleague:

1. Put yourself in their shoes.

When you become sensitive and show empathy to people, they feel you care about them and the position they find themselves in. While many people deliver bad news wearing a full sheet of armor to protect themselves and their emotions, studies have shown it is much more effective to be personal and show emotion when delivering bad news. Compared to managers who guard themselves from showing emotion, empathetic managers are much more likely to yield more positive outcomes. The great outcomes include, but are not limited to: protecting the reputation of the organization, lowering the survivor guilt of remaining employees, and lessening the likelihood of post-layoff lawsuits and EEOC claims.

2. Give the guidance on what’s next.

Ideally, show compassion and understanding by sharing when you might have been in a similar position wondering what to do next. Highlight any silver lining that accompanies the bad news, such as a severance package. Outline the next steps on the path toward both action and positivity.

3. Be fair.

If multiple people are adversely affected by the bad news, treat everyone with consistency, and fairness. Make sure you train your managers, or whomever is due to deliver the bad news, in this regard. Ensure that each of your managers are trained to exhibit the same compassion, empathy, and fairness, when being “the bearer of bad news.”


No one likes to tell people things they do not want to hear or could not foresee. It hurts both the recipient and the person delivering the message. Bad news is always bad, and nothing is going to change that. But by adopting the three aforementioned best practices, it will make those uncomfortable workplace moments more manageable, constructive, and fair.


Source 1: Challenger, Grey & Christmas.



Kevin Sheridan is an internationally-recognized Keynote Speaker, a New York Times Best Selling Author, and one of the most sought-after voices in the world on the topic of Employee Engagement. For five years running, he has been honored on Inc. Magazine’s top 100 Leadership Speakers in the world, as well as Inc.’s top 100 experts on Employee Engagement. He was also honored to be named to The Employee Engagement Award’s Top 101 Global Influencers on Employee Engagement of 2017.

Having spent thirty years as a high-level Human Capital Management consultant, Kevin has helped some of the world’s largest corporations rebuild a culture that fosters productive engagement, earning him several distinctive awards and honors. Kevin’s premier creation, PEER®, has been consistently recognized as a long-overdue, industry-changing innovation in the field of Employee Engagement. His first book, Building a Magnetic Culture, made six of the best seller lists including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today. He is also the author of The Virtual Manager, which explores how to most effectively manage remote workers.

Kevin received a Master of Business Administration from the Harvard Business School in 1988, concentrating his degree in Strategy, Human Resources Management, and Organizational Behavior. He is also a serial entrepreneur, having founded and sold three different companies.