How To Deliver Bad News To Employees, In A Good Way

Regardless of if you are the person receiving or giving bad news, no one likes to be a part of the conversation if bad news is going to be involved.

However, when the situation calls for it, there are ways to make hard conversations go a little smoother.

While the words you use have value to the person you are talking to, the tone of your voice and the way you go about the situation has a bigger impact on the conversation, according to recent studies by Saarland University in Germany.

The researchers behind the study, looked specifically the situation where a manager needed to convey the news of an employee being fired. They conducted a series of experiments which involved role playing, in order to reach their conclusion.

Training was received by one group of managers, on the methods of using language that centered on fairness and the facts of the termination, while another group did not receive any training.

Staff reacted much better and were more accepting to information/news that was given by managers who went through the training.

They were less likely to be confrontational when their manager took the time to explain the underlying causes of the situation, instead of being aggressive and demonstrating their authority through their tone of voice.


Then the researchers looked into the importance of fairness versus fact-giving, when delivering bad news to an employee. One group of managers was given training geared towards fairness and factual correctness, and the second group was trained on being strictly factual.

The supervisors who received training only on delivering facts concerning the bad news, did not fare better with employees, as compared to managers who did not receive any training at all.

Through this, the research was able to demonstrate that characteristic of fairness was most important in the conversation concerning a layoff.

According to Professors Manuela Richter and Cornelius Konig, who led the studies, when it comes to fairness, both respect and transparency are involved. A good example of this is when a manager took the time to discuss with the employee that the layoff wasn’t happening because of his/her behavior or performance, but rather the layoff was taking place due to economic situations and difficulties which resulted in the company cutting back.


To give bad news with fairness and empathy, here are some quick tips:

  1. Tell it like it is: Employees stated that they would rather be told the truth, without any toning down, and simply be given the facts of the matter, over a manager trying to say what they believe the employee wants to hear.
  2. Be considerate and prepared: It is best to prepare and practice what you are going to say in advance. Also think about the best time and place to give the bad news, taking into account the employee’s convenience, privacy, dignity and feelings.
  3. Don’t rush things: Don’t try and make the meeting as short as possible. The employee can sense when you’re just trying to get over with it. Keep sufficient time for the employee to process the information, understand it, discuss it, share concerns and ask questions.

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