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Communicating Difficult Messages

Posted by: Rod Kurtz on July 30, 2008

It’s inevitable that at some point business owners, managers, or supervisors have to communicate a difficult message. This can range from layoffs or an employee’s termination to announcing your team has missed its sales goal. Often people try to soften the blow by using friendlier language rather than straight talk. Unfortunately, this tends not only to blur the line, but also to make a difficult situation worse.

There are a few things to remember when delivering a difficult message. First, whenever people receive negative information, there is a tendency to go into selective listening mode. This means you need to choose your words carefully so your message will be understood.

Be empathetic, but do not say things like "I know how you feel," "I wish I didn’t have to do this," or "This isn’t my decision" because if you’re delivering the bad news, you’re accountable and need to support the decision of management.

Lastly, plan your meeting. Don’t wing it. Write down what you intend to say to make sure you cover all the key points. If you can, role-play with someone in HR or another person you can trust.

Always be firm yet professional and you will be able to get the right message across.

Bob Kustka
The Fusion Factor
Norwell, Mass.

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