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The Good Way to Deliver Bad News

Delivering great news is easy. Who wouldn’t want to deliver a message to his board that EBITDA growth is double the forecasted number? Who wouldn’t want to tell her leadership team that profit-sharing is being introduced? Who wouldn’t jump at the chance to tell a star performer they are being promoted?

Figuring out what to say in these situations seldom keeps executives up at night—and so, as a leadership communication coach, I rarely spend time on these feel-good moments when working with my C-level clients. Instead, we tend to focus on the more challenging interactions in which clients wish to influence and lead through their communication.

One of the most challenging interactions for leaders occurs when they have to deliver bad news. This could mean firing someone, or telling executives the strategy they have been pursuing has failed, or informing a VC that their shares are being diluted through a new round of financing. I know these conversations are challenging because over and over I see confident, successful people make the same mistakes in how they handle them. And the impact of these mistakes can range from small (think: an annoyed or frustrated audience) to significant (think: destroyed relationships, disillusioned stakeholders).

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