Are you about to deliver bad news?

Over lunch last week, my client and I spent much of the meal talking about how he wasn’t looking forward to having to let go of a number of his staff over the next few months.

We agreed that he was lucky to have got so far in his career without having to go through this process before.

I have been on both ends of the redundancy conversation and frankly neither is much fun.

I have had the benefit of running an exercise over the past several decades in our assertiveness workshops when we discuss what you want when receiving bad news. And the same points come up each time.

There are some obvious ones like take the initiative and don’t let the person hear the news on the grapevine! And less obvious ones like don’t keep apologising.

But the one that comes up most frequently is take responsibility. Don’t blame others for the decision.

It often feels easier to not be the bad guy. You know the sort of thing that is said: “If it had been up to me," or “I don’t know why the company/HR have decided this but….” or worst of all “I wouldn’t have done this but unfortunately the decision has been made”.

At best you come across as a mere messenger and nobody wants to talk to the monkey instead of the organ grinder!

If you have to give bad news make sure that you do it with authority; it is always easier to accept if the person telling you agrees that it is the right thing for the business.

And don’t forget when you deliver bad news that it’s not just the words you use that make you appear to have authority. You need to sit or stand tall and sound like you mean what you say. Let me know how you get on at

  • Sally Hindmarch is a communication skills specialist and runs Partners With You, a company that helps people improve the way they come across at work