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How to Deliver Difficult Messages to Employees

Man talking on a phone in a meeting room

As a business leader, you are tasked with achieving balance by setting smart business goals, building effective teams, and creating a conducive working environment that helps employees give their best and get the job done. Unfortunately, there is often no way you can take these actions without having difficult conversations. It is tough to tell your most effective and competent team player that HR turned down their request for a raise or a promotion. Giving an under-performing employee a sack letter or laying off workers could make you look callous or leave bad blood if not communicated properly. No matter how hard these conversations are, they are unavoidable. Below are a few tips to help you communicate empathetically and leave your employees feeling better or, at the very least, valued during tough conversations.

Prepare for the Conversation

Think of the best way to say the message while including facts like why the decision was made and how the final outcome was reached. Depending on the person or the gravity of the message, you can give a sincere praise preamble or complement to ease the tension. Be objective but also empathetic. Rehearse possible dialogues and be prepared for any kind of reaction from the employee.

Be Direct but Empathetic

As important as it is to cushion the effect of the news, it is crucial that you are direct, clear and concise with the message. Do not sugar-coat it and give constructive criticism with the right words where necessary. Whether you are firing someone, demoting a repeat offender or telling them that their services are no longer needed, people deserve to be the recipients of a compassionate message that shows empathy and celebrates their contribution.


What you have to say is just as important as when you say it. Don’t blurt out the news as soon as you see the person in question; wait for the right time and the right frame of mind that makes the conversation seems fair. Monday mornings, a day before an official leave or a holiday, or when a person is grieving or experience a loss are all general examples of inappropriate times to share bad news or difficult messages.

Ask for Feedback

After a difficult conversation with an employee, give them appropriate time to process the information and then ask for feedback. Allow any form of venting and questions but do not waiver on your decision. On no occasion should you debate the authenticity of your decision or change it based on a display of emotions or sentiment.

Instead, offer consolation, treat them with respect and give insights or advice for better quality work going forward. In the end, it always about your intentions, rather than your actions that determine how well you handled a difficult conversation with employees. For help with executive messaging, contact us today.