Monday, January 16, 2012

Delivering Bad News Tactfully and Effectively


“You are a department manager in a mid-sized company that provides technology support services. You have ten employees who are required to maintain a high level of technical expertise and deliver excellent customer service. One of your employees, who has been with the company for two years, is performing at a substandard level and you have received numerous complaints from customers and coworkers. In addition, this employee has displayed confrontational behavior which has created a hostile environment. You must now meet with this employee and deliver an ultimatum regarding the need for immediate improvement or dismissal.”

            As a department manager of a mid-sized company, this position holds a lot of responsibility.  With that being said, having to deliver bad news is something that is not an enjoyable experience. It comes with the territory and is something that all managers will come across at one time or another within their term of employment.  In this current scenario an employee needs to be informed of his job performance as well as his confrontational behavior. Things need to be changed or there will be a need for immediate dismissal. There are many different approaches that can be taken into consideration when dealing with this specific problem. In a situation like this it is important to recognize that the employee may react with an emotional response. Because of this it is important to tread lightly, but it is also important to get straight to the point. Creating ambiguous statements and drawing out the process will cause more problems, and it is important that the employee is able to understand the intended message. It is important not to procrastinate in delivering the news, this will only “exasperate” their reaction. (Donnelly, 2011)

            In a situation like this it is important to look at the incident as a whole and figure out how the employee will react. In a circumstance like this, I can only imagine that because of the confrontational behavior the employee will more than likely react in a hostile or defensive manner. Once I have taken this into consideration, this will help me in the way I approach the problem. “Brevity is often a big problem for managers who are delivering bad news to employees” (Donnelly, 2011). Because this is a serious incident and the job performance of the employee is below substandard it is important to be brief, direct, and to the point. I would have to explain to the employee what has been going on and bring in specific examples, so that the employee can understand why there is a need to have this meeting. It is important not to belittle the subject, but to make him aware of the problem. I would offer room for improvement and extra training opportunities. I would then ask the employee what his thoughts were on the situation. Listen to see if the employee has responded to the feedback, and also find out where the employee sees himself in regard to whether he takes responsibility. It is important to let him know the ultimatum of “immediate dismissal” so that the employee is aware of what can happen if there is no improvement.  It is important not to blame the employee, but to get the issues out in the open and to work on resolving them. (Kleiman, 2005) In the end it is important to deliver the intended message, and it is important to save face with the employee. Make him understand that he has the ability to change and that the ultimate outcome depends on how he handles the situation. Again being supportive and offering training opportunities can encourage the employee and show the support needed.

            As in the mentioned scenario, it is apparent that delivering bad news is not the easiest thing a manager has to do. It is a reality and is something that a manager does have to deal with. It is important to take into consideration on how the employee may respond to the news. Being able to look at it from that point of view, will help the manager determine what the best approach will be. The main point is to be direct, concise, and show a little bit of empathy. It is important to deliver the message in the intended manner, and listen to the feedback of the employee. The manager has to make sure that the employee understands the message, delivering it in an ambiguous manner or drawing out the conversation may add confusion or make a painful experience. In many ways the employee should be aware the problem, if he is already confrontational with other employees. Offering specific examples of the behavior is a good way to explain why the meeting needs to take place. Focusing on how the behavior can change and offering training opportunities will hopefully make the employee focus on how to change instead of lingering on the situation itself.


Donnelly, T. (2011). How to deliver band news to employees. INC., Retrieved from


Kleiman, C. (2005, May 26). Addressing tough issues usually takes delicate touch. :[Chicago

            Final Edition]. Chicago Tribune, p.3.2. Retrieved January 16, 2012, from Chicago

            Tribune. (Document ID: 844784471).

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