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How do you deliver bad news well?

4 min read


The following answers are provided by the Young Entrepreneur Council, an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. The YEC recently launched #StartupLab, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses via live video chats, an expert content library and e-mail lessons. Read previous SmartBlogs posts by YEC.

Sometimes, you have to break off a business relationship (or fire a key staffer). What’s one tip for delivering bad news well?

1. Come from kindness

Before making that call or taking that meeting, sit down and write out everything you appreciate about that relationship so you can approach such a difficult conversation from a place of kindness. Endings are natural parts of life. Ending with kindness is a choice. — Corey Blake, Round Table Companies

2. Help them grow

Firing someone is never fun, but it is often necessary. I’ve always tried to make the best of the bad situation by being honest, kind and straightforward with the person while attempting to help him learn as much as possible about why it didn’t work. Getting fired is a traumatic event, so if you can make it a learning experience that will help him perform better in the future, everyone wins. — Adam Callinan, BottleCamo

3. Deliver it quickly and concisely

Deliver it as soon as possible, and don’t sugarcoat it. Tell it like it is. Provide the direct, pertinent info, and deliver it right away. And when possible, be prepared to share the plan for overcoming bad news. — Dan Price, Gravity Payments


4. Deliver the news directly

“He who passes the sentence should swing the sword.” If the decision was made by you, the relationship is best served if you delivering the news directly and honestly yourself. Involving intermediaries may lead to unanswered questions, potential narrator problems and a less-than-ideal breakoff. — Brennan White, Watchtower

5. Act fast

If the two of you are very close, they may see it coming. Try to meet as soon as possible to prevent the circulation of rumors before they start. View the situation as a logical next step instead of just “bad news,” since your energy will carry through the meeting. Ask open-ended questions to judge their side of the situation, and listen for how you can help. — Tyler Arnold, SimplySocial Inc.

6. Be clear and direct

While you certainly want to be gracious, it’s also important to be clear and direct. Get to the point at the front end of the conversation versus skirting around the issue. There’s no good reason to leave the person you’re talking with unsure of your intention and waiting — unknowingly — for the bad news to be delivered. — Tracy Foster, ONA

7. Plan the information you want to communicate

Before you have the conversation, sit down and write out the key pieces of information that you want to communicate. Examples include reasons for ending the relationship, the severance amount (if relevant) and the date of their final day. These conversations have the potential to get very lengthy and heated, so it’s important to have a clear roadmap before you walk in. — Michael Simpson, DJZ

8. Explain yourself
It’s not always easy, but try to make the other party understand the situation from your perspective. Clearly, there are good reasons for making your decision, and if they can empathize with your logic, it may remove some of the sting from the bad news. — Robert J. Moore, RJMetrics

9. Stick to your guns

Listen to them, and let them plead their case. But if you know it’s the right move, see it through to the end. — Andrew Schrage, Money Crashers Personal Finance


10. Help them move on

It’s tough when someone who relies on you to pay his salary can no longer turn to you for the same support. That alone can sour a relationship. To salvage the connection, you can offer alternatives. In business relationships, you can refer them to other service providers that can better satisfy their needs. For former employees, you can help them find a new job they may love. — Danny Wong, Blank Label

11. Give a transparent explanation

Don’t leave any uncertainty as to why the relationship had to be terminated. Giving a clear and transparent explanation will ensure the other party fully understands your reasoning, which helps keep hard feelings from forming and gives them constructive info on what they can work on to improve. — Matt Ehrlichman, Porch