Industry News

When delivering bad news, how do you handle it?

SmartPulse -- our weekly nonscientific reader poll in SmartBrief on Leadership -- tracks feedback from more than 200,000 business leaders. We run the poll question each week in our newsletter.

When delivering bad news, how do you handle it?

  • I'm very direct and matter of fact: 48%
  • I soft-pedal it and try to cushion it: 29%
  • I try to find a cheery upside to balance it out: 20%
  • I avoid it and don't deliver it or ask someone else to: 3%

Delivering bad news is hard. More than half of you try to cushion the bad news either by minimizing it or seeking to balance it out with something cheery. Often this doesn’t help anyone. In the former case, it can cause someone to dismiss the bad news as not that bad and then not take appropriate action. In the latter case, the recipient might focus on the upside and ignore the bad news, once again leading to inaction. In both cases, the inaction is a recipe for creating more bad news.

Speak directly. You owe people that as a leader. What’s more important than softening the blow is communicating the support you’ll provide to recover from the bad news going forward. If the recipient knows you’re there for them and will help them deal with the situation, they’re more likely to take it seriously and take remedial action.

Mike Figliuolo is managing director of thoughtLEADERS, which includes TITAN -- the firm’s e-learning platform. Previously, he worked at McKinsey & Co., Capital One and Scotts Miracle-Gro. He is a West Point graduate and author of three leadership books: "One Piece of Paper," "Lead Inside the Box" and "The Elegant Pitch."