iCRA expert bite #11: Communicating ‘bad news’ – a leadership skill

April 14, 2023

Are you a leader, a supervisor or a (partnership) facilitator? Have you had to tell someone their contract would not be extended? Or let an employee know that there will be consequences after they failed to achieve results? Then you know that ‘bad news conversations’ are never easy.

However, there is a way to communicate ‘bad news’. To make sure the message is clear and accepted without damaging the relationship.

First, let’s talk about common practices. There are various common pitfalls when breaking bad news. We call them cushioning, bargaining, arguing, mechanizing, or unloading. Which one do you recognize?

The 5 pittfalls of bad news announcement

The consequence of these pitfalls is that your message is not understood or accepted. In the worst-case scenario, you might end up in an argument or fight and damage your relationship. This is unpleasant for both parties and has a negative impact on your partnership and reputation. So, how can you break bad news more effectively?

Make sure you:

  • Bring the message in a firm and friendly way, early in the talk
  • Deal with the other’s reaction by empathizing with them

By following these two principles, your partner will better understand and accept your news. This conversation styles removes room to negotiate and helps your partners to focus on acceptance.

Sometimes the recipient will still express a strong reaction like anger, disappointment or shock. Try not to perceive this as negative – it helps to process their emotions and reach calmness. Instead make space for their emotions by ensuring that they feel seen and heard This will make it is easier for them to start digesting the message and focus on discussing next steps.

We shared this checklist with participants of an iCRA workshop in Ethiopia tackling how to phase-out program support. You can download it here. It is just an example, but provides a versatile framework.

It will never be easy to deliver bad news, but we hope it will help you deliver bad news more effectively!

As a leader you might encounter other challenging situations: like motivating employees with poor performance or building a committed team that collaborates with ease.  Are you eager to develop your leadership skills? Subscribe now to our online Masterclass our course ‘Making Leadership Work’ .   

This iCRA expert bite is written by: Mirte van Os and Mariëtte Gross