Delivering Bad News: Compassion and Courage


Compassion and Courage

Giving bad news is never easy and it is something that due to understandable anxiety, fear or desire to avoid conflict we distance ourselves from to minimise our own and others hurt. What we as leaders need to recognise is that when we are working, outside of COVID-19 time it is our teams that make the organisation and it is our role as leaders to plot a course, provide challenges and mentor each individual achieve the desired organisational goals whist supporting and providing space personal ones. This allows us to motivate and empower our team members in a culture where they feel valued, respected, and given responsibility. Much in the same vein when it comes to delivering bad news to these team members there are a few things we can do to make it easier on everyone.

Firstly, always treat your team members with the respect they deserve, they are intelligent human beings who deserve this. Confidence is key, not arrogance, or false confidence (fear posing as confidence), take the time to prepare for the conversation. This leads into my next point, take the time to understand who you are talking to. Knowing the person, you are speaking with and how to communicate with them is very important and will save a multitude of misunderstanding and misinterpretation.

If you cannot have these conversations face-to-face have them on Skype or Zoom where you can see the person you are talking to and they can see you. Body language is important and remember to keep your cool toward them, they are the focus of the call, not you. It is not easy, but it is what the captain of any ship does. Leadership is about being brave for your teammates in difficult times. As you are most likely in a situation that is beyond your control due to COVID-19 it is not your fault that you have to have this conversation and as such you will most likely receive understanding and respect. Be clear, be honest and remember if you want to receive respect, you must give it. Take the time to be compassionate and kind.

It is very important; however tempting do not try to make it all sound better than it is. Once again respect who you are talking to, they are an adult and the truth is always the best policy. This also goes for instilling any mis-leading information, speak with clarity, speak with compassion, and speak the truth of the matter. If you as a leader are willing to be vulnerable in front of them you will receive respect back. Even if the conversation does not go well you know that you have done what you can to be as compassionate and respectful as possible. You will likely receive emotional responses; it is important to keep strong and be there for that person. Keep it professional and, here is that word again, lots of compassion. Remember there are two people in the conversation, you and them and you need to look out for both of you, this conversation is not your time, you must give yourself the space you need before and after these conversations to process. It is not your fault; you have done what you can and now you are doing what you must to survive. As mentioned earlier be careful to not prioritise yourself and your feelings over theirs and find a way to present the conversation that whilst difficult is delivered and completed in a constructive and respectful manner.

In conclusion, speak with confidence, be honest, be clear and concise. Make sure you know who you are talking to, get to the point, do not mislead, and deliver everything respectfully with compassion. It will never be a breeze, but you can make the entire ordeal easier on yourself and the individuals you speak with. Finally, prepare, prepare, prepare. Write a script if you need to, to keep you on track (don’t read from it on the call – this will come across as disingenuous, speak form the heart and say what needs to be said.

Finally, I suggest some ‘quiet time’ for you before you start. Go for a walk, do some meditation, write in your journal, whatever brings you calm then return to your notes, take a deep breath, and begin.

Good luck, you can do it.

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