Apr 30~ Deliver Tough Words w/ Impact

Updated: Jun 6, 2021

Visualizing yourself as the Grinch every time you have to deliver tough news about the current state of your business/goals? Do you find it painful to tell colleagues and employees repeatedly to manage time more efficiently, to produce leads with better vetting, or to take the time to proofread their content? Does their less-than-enthusiastic response make you feel ineffective, naggy, and weary?


First, understand the difference between reminding the recipients of their responsibility to work with competence, effectiveness, and integrity and just delivering bad news.


In the first case, the problems on which you are reporting are a reflection on many of the audience members' work and, possibly, a reflection on your leadership and teamwork model needing an upgrade. So, going down a list of conditions and numbers, reminding everybody (or every team) what they should specifically accomplish to what level of effectiveness/accuracy in what time frame can be an objective start. Of course, acknowledge what is going well and what is not. Then, having small breakout groups first discuss what is getting in the way or progress and then propose a means by which the hurdles can be reduced ensures their buy-in. This is especially true if they have time to present their solutions aloud. If the issues come from a shortage of workers, team-members, funding, supplies/materials, or expertise, take note. Literally, listen and write.


In the end, you have to not only tell people where they are falling short but also demonstrate to them that what you are requiring of them is feasible and attainable. So, your pitch is less naggy, more nuts and bolts plus inspiration. Also, remember to reiterate - with sincerity - what is being done well.


Try this formula for bad news, that news which is surprising, far-reaching, and/or out of your control: Be direct, but offer an opening remark, much as one does in an essay before giving the thesis statement. Use positive, but not patronizing language. Express empathy and accept responsibility where you can reasonably do so. Allow time and silence for the message to settle. Give suggestions for what you (plural) can do next. Try finding a powerful metaphor for adjusting to higher or shifting expectations. #WhoMovedMyCheese ?

Actively listen to and note concerns. Answer any questions you can, but do not make up answers. End on an encouraging note.



Whether or not your are naturally conflict-avoidant, you may struggle with holding meetings when there are challenging messages to convey, especially if you anticipate they will be met with negative emotions. Remain calm and composed; stay on script; and definitely show your humanity. Information delivered with empathy, accountability, accuracy, and suggestions for solutions goes over better.