We all hate to be the bearer of bad news. It’s among life’s most difficult tasks to have to convey news that will cause distress to one of our fellow humans, but some people have to deliver difficult news for a living and it can exact a heavy toll. Carrie Seim talked to HR managers, business consultants, oncologists, first responders and even wedding planners to learn how this role affected them and how they coped. Her article What It’s Like to Deliver Bad News for a Living appeared in the Atlantic.

No surprise, many experienced stress, guilt and burnout. Here’s on example cited from the HR field:

“A 2006 study of Boeing managers published in Human Resource Management, as well as a follow-up study published in 2009, found those managers tasked with implementing some of the company’s 40,000 layoffs experienced a battery physical and emotional troubles.

Their symptoms included ulcers, headaches, heart problems, increased blood pressure, disturbed sleep, social isolation and emotional exhaustion—a classic measure of burnout. Notably, many of those ill effects lingered, even three years after they’d delivered layoff notices.”

Some of the tips that they offer include:

  • Always deliver bad news in person
  • Always bring a partner
  • Skip the euphemisms
  • Practice and rehearse

Everyone in HR is familiar with delivering bad news: Conducting firings of lay offs; conveying there will be no pay raise; saying no to a promotion; and turning down an employee idea are all routine responsibilities. Or it might be giving difficult feedback about and employee’s performance or behavior. Or holding a dread discussion about sensitive matters, such as personal hygiene.

Advice for delivering bad news

We have the 10 Commandments for Delivering Bad News bookmarked – it’s an article by Robert Bies, a professor of management at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business that appeared in the Forbes Leadership Forum a few years ago, but it’s a keeper. It’s not specific to HR – it covers a variety of bad news scenarios that managers may need to address.

And here’s a handy infographic that offers A Manager’s Guide to Delivering Bad News:


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