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Need To Deliver Bad News Virtually? This Is A Must Read

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In Difficult Times, Empathy Is King

As the COVID-19 situation changes rapidly many leaders are being forced to deliver extremely important information or bad news through calls, email, and online meetings.

And almost none have been trained on how to do it.

A study showed that even with healthcare professionals, who have to give bad news throughout their career, 58% said being honest without taking away hope is the most difficult part.

We all hate giving bad news. It’s awkward and uncomfortable. And doing it through virtual communications can feel impersonal and at worst, cowardly.

But just like a news anchor delivering important information on TV, there are ways you can deliver your message so it still feels sincere.

Follow these 6 steps so you can speak with compassion and clarity, or take advantage of our expert training for virtual communication.

bad news

Step 1: Draft And Craft Your Message

There is nothing worse than a speaker who is unprepared—especially when it’s bad news.

It is crucial that you take the time to write out what you’re going to say ahead of time and understand all of the talking points. If you’re unclear about anything, speak to the relevant people and ask questions so you can be confident in what you’re saying.

Have a discussion with as many people as possible so you can learn different points of view and the varying concerns that people may have. The more you prepare, the more clarity you will give your message.

Step 2: Plan For Compassion

As well as figuring out the issues and how to deliver them, you need to think about your employees’ pain points.

Consider who will be hit hardest, how will this affect them? You need to address as many of these points as possible so people feel like you have taken their situation into consideration.

You can’t think of everything, but even the exercise itself is valuable for shaping how well you’ll be able to empathize.

True leaders show compassion in the face of emotions like anger or sadness.

Step 3: Be Upfront About The Bad News

When the truth is ugly, it’s normal to want to play it down. To leave out the facts that you think people don’t need to know.

In reality, you aren’t protecting people by hiding information, you’re protecting yourself from the feelings of guilt and discomfort. It’s a leader’s responsibility to shoulder that burden and lay it out there.

People want all the facts, good and bad, so that they can fully understand what is going on and start thinking about their own plans. There are even times when employees may think of solutions that the leadership team hadn’t considered, so it’s always worth keeping everyone informed.

Step 4: Justify And Explain Everything


This is the first question that will be on everyone’s mind as you talk about the facts. If you’ve done the right preparation ahead of time your talk should address this thoroughly.

Communicating why decisions were made and the logic behind them reassures people that things have been thought through. Giving context helps everyone see the different perspectives and factors at play which reduces incorrect assumptions being made.

Step 5: Make Time For Q&A

Be ready for heightened emotions.

The worst thing you can do is not allow questions or space for people to express themselves. Just delivering the message then shutting the talk down is the same as sending an email with bad news and never responding. People need to feel heard.

You don’t need to have all the answers. When a question comes up that you can’t answer, be honest and admit it, promise to find out for the person who asked. It lets them know that leadership wants to work with them instead of ignore them.

There also may be too many people in the virtual meeting to manage and realistically answer every question. In this case, ask everyone to submit questions and conduct a live poll to vote and see what questions people most want to be answered.

You also need to resist the temptation to agree with complaints or issues raised. It will only undermine people’s trust in the decisions that have been made. Listen, acknowledge, express gratitude for the perspective, and move on.

Step 6: Pay Attention To Your Tone

Communication skills are incredibly valuable in these situations. And how you deliver the message can be even more important than the message itself.

Consider this sentence: “I’m sorry, but there’s nothing we can do.”

Who would you rather hear say this line to you: Hannibal Lecter or Bob Ross?

It seems like an extreme example, but how people react to bad news is very different in times of high stress and anxiety. The more calm, sincere, and empathetic you sound, the better the news will be received.

Whatever time you dedicated to writing your message, you need to spend at least as much practicing the delivery virtually. Find colleagues you can trust to be honest and have them listen to you on a video call so they can give feedback.


Schedule an easy 30-minute call using our calendar. We’re here to help!

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Speak with MOXIE eBook: Your Guide to Powerful Presentations and Performances

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Speak with MOXIE eBook: Your Guide to Powerful Presentations and Performances
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