How to communicate bad news

ONCE YOU'VE MADE A DECISION that is necessary for the strength of your business, the question becomes: How do you tell your employees? Do you "spin" the communication so the company looks good, risking deceiving your staff? If you come clean about the company's motivation to save money, will you incite an insurrection?

Years ago, I bought a suit and a pair of heels and entered the corporate world, leaving my career as a dancer in the dresser drawer with my leotards and tights. I'd landed a plum job with a prestigious corporation and set off to do my very best at whatever they put in front of me. I never dreamed I'd spend nearly three years telling people they were out of a job.

It was 1980, and, like many organizations, this one was moving its back office operations out of New York City, as a means of cutting payroll costs. My job was to counsel the workers affected by this—from the mailroom to the executive suite, in groups and one-to-one. I got to see the immediate, real-life effects of how management communicates bad news.

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Safe when exposed to contagion
October 13, 2003

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