Finding a good way to break bad news

Emotional intelligence (or ‘emotional quotient’ or EQ) has been a key factor in promotions and hiring in large organisations for quite some time now. With retrenchment rates rising all over the world, what’s become essential is to apply the same EQ while letting an employee go.


To break bad news, a senior official/immediate manager should explain the situation to the employee in person, address his queries/concerns and ask if any help can be provided by the company to smoothen the transition. Grooming maven Dale Carnegie had famously said, “Be compassionate. Ensure that you differentiate the person from the situation.” 


If you are the giver of bad news, always be empathetic to the receiver. The reason you deliver bad news in person, is that you can also understand the verbal and non-verbal cues of the receiver and handle the situation accordingly. It’s human nature to take things personally when receiving bad news, especially in terms of losing a job – people feel it is the end of the road for them because they aren’t good enough. That’s why you need to word it well. Additionally how you say the message is more important than what you actually say.


As a rule of thumb, any bad news which needs to reach the receiver urgently for him/her to take the necessary prompt action, or any news which will not stir up too strong an emotional outburst can be shared over phone/email. For instance, if someone’s family member met with an accident or there’s a big execution glitch in a key client project.

Email works well when there are many recipients of the news – like a project team. But draft it carefully. Sharing any bad news with senior executives should always be done in person. Also news about job retrenchment, pay cuts, etc should not be done over email/phone. In personal life, news about death, rejection of marriage proposals, any chronic illness should ideally be done in person.


“While talking to the receiver, be mindful of your facial expressions and body language. Don’t crack a joke to lighten the mood – it’d be disrespectful and rude,” she says.


Nearly three-quarters (71%) of hiring managers surveyed by Career Builder in 2011 said they valued an employee’s EQ over their IQ. Companies are investing in boosting EQ of employees and that involves how to give and receive bad news. To comfort a colleague who’s been at the receiving end, understand the cause, situation, ask that person if there is anything you can do to solve the problem.

Show genuine empathy. Avoid making the person feel victimised. To boost his/her morale, you can cite instances of other people who were in such situations, and how they overcame it.


If you are the receiver of bad news, keep your emotions in check, and ask questions to clearly understand the news. “Try not to take it personally,” Kamat advises, and adds, “You can check if anything can be done to mend the situation. If not, accept the situation and move on amicably.”


As a giver of bad news...
Prepare for the conversation. The conversation can get heated. Think of all reactions and how to handle your own
Remind yourself why it’s necessary in the first place. No one likes to deliver bad news, but it will be easier if you feel justified in delivering it
Be direct but also compassionate. Don’t sugarcoat bad news but don’t be cold or robotic too
Think about the location. Make sure to deliver the news in a place that is private, minimises embarrassment, and allows the other person to maintain dignity. Think about your own safety as well
Don’t bargain. Don’t allow the conversation to become a negotiation
Source: Psychology Today

As a receiver...
Don’t take it sitting down. Don’t fly off the handle but it is okay to defend yourself, as calmly as possible
Don’t take it personally, but if you feel overwhelmed, practice some breathing exercises then and there. Wait until the meeting concludes to go to the bathroom or outside, and have your reaction away from your supervisor’s eyes
If an answer is required, you don’t have to make any decisions immediately. If you have been blindsided by the decision, you can ask for time
After the conversation, make a plan
Be kind to yourself. Look after your physical and mental health

Thought-process to make right and fruitful decision in life

The marginal difference between ‘should’ and ‘must’ guides you along the path of what is right or wrong – be it in your search for a partner, career, or your efforts to stay true to yourself.

Recently a 23-year-old Kerala boy Gokul Sreedhar shared a very encouraging social media post, congratulating his mother on her second marriage, and warning people not to look at her with hatred or contempt – adding cheekily that even if they did so, he couldn’t care less. The post went viral as people appreciated Gokul’s break away from traditional, stunted thinking and mores.

In his post written in Malayalam, Gokul talks about his mother, Mini, who stayed on in an abusive marriage for his sake, walking out with him only when he was in the tenth class. It was then that Gokul decided his mother would still fulfill her dreams and potential by marrying again some day. She did. And with much trepidation, Gokul shared his delight on social media, revealing a very progressive outlook even as he warned off diehard regressive, orthodox onlookers. “I was worried that my close friends or relatives would talk ill of my mother for her decision… I thought I need not keep this a secret.”

I wonder what gave Gokul the gumption needed for such progressive thinking and the strength to fly against societal approval. What convinced him he was right or told him he needed to stick his neck out to support his mother in her search for happiness – in fact in being the one to push her on to this path? What guides any of us when we decide to take action that sails against the wind?

So often we don’t know what is the right thing to do. It is when you are not sure of the stand to be taken that you start veering towards the stand that you think should be taken. And this is where you become a victim of prejudice and established, well-entrenched stereotypes and beliefs. It is easier to follow the trodden path rather than build one of your own.

What are the factors that help one take the right stance? And what is “right stance” anyway? The right stance for you, for your loved ones, or the stance that is acceptable by all because it falls in line with tried and tested practices? Who decides? How did Gokul know that he was right in insisting his mother got another chance at life? How is he sure this time round it is the right choice for her and she will be happy? The truth is that he doesn’t know any of that, and that is what makes his choice a truly brave one. It is the outcome of his love for his mother, his intelligence and emotional maturity, his determination, and of course, oodles of faith that the Universe will ensure justice.

None of us can ever be sure we are making the right choices – for career, love, marriage, our dreams and desires, or for our loved ones. All we can do is go into a choice with sincere love, empathy, understanding of the situation and our own selves, trust our instincts and then go in with a prayer and lots of faith. Though we cannot ever be certain we are right, we can look out for some indicators to assure us we are doing our best and need not suffer regrets later.

You are doing the right thing if – You are not making any uncomfortable compromise or betraying your own self.

The decision is yours and has not been taken with a view to please another or to follow the herd.

  • You were not guided by what you ‘should’ do, but more by what you ‘must’ do.
  • You have made your decision with hope and faith, and not out of fear.
  • Your heart knows that you have made the only choice worth making.
  • You are self-confident and recognise your value.

Those of us who are connected to our inner selves are more likely to select the ‘right’ path. It is important to believe in yourself, learn ways to stay relaxed and focused, and to accept change. Be alert to what makes you uncomfortable or calls to question your basic values. At such times, question your actions and be willing to make changes with positivity and faith, no matter if such a choice pitches you against the world.

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