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Managing Difficult Conversations


I am in the process of designing some training for managers who need to manage some significant changes in their teams (redundancy, redeployment, change in job roles)

I have the usual stuff on change covered (resistance, kubhler-ross model etc).

However I am looking for some practical tips I can pass onto managers on how to handle the difficult conversations they will need to have with staff who are being made redundant or moving jobs.

Does anyone have any articles or books they can recommend that have lots of practical advice on communicating bad news?

Thanks in advance for your usual pearls of wisdom.
derek hughes

8 Responses

  1. Training the communicator
    We also have this feature on TrainingZone by Jan Hills, which focuses on training the giver of unpleasant information – to know how to handle the information they are to impart.

    Jan states:
    “Recent research in the medical field* shows just how difficult delivering bad news can be. Even doctors who are trained to give some of the most difficult news and who need the patient to take action, often to enable life saving treatment, find it difficult. The research found that 40% of them admitted to putting an inaccurate or overly positive gloss on bad news in order to relieve themselves of the burden of dealing with the patient’s reaction.”

    * Kate Sweeney, James A Sheppard. ‘Being the best bearer of bad tidings; Review of General Psychology’

    To read her feature here’s the link.

    I hope this is helpful.

    Kind regards

    Susie Finch, Editor, features

  2. not an article or a book but….
    In agreement with the other sources mentioned this is a difficult area for mist managers therefore they tend to delay, defer or dress up their message.

    Often this takes the form of a lot of beating around the bush and very little cutting to the chase, (One manager took two and a half hours to get to the point with a staff member facing redundancy, when the guy eventually said “You are trying to tell me I’m fired” the manager breathed a huge sigh of relief and replied “I knew you’d catch on fast!”

    My advice is;
    ~cut to the chase
    ~be considerate of privacy
    ~be clear and concise
    ~offer support, but make it clear if the matter isn’t open for discussion
    ~don’t “project” (if you think you will get attacked, you will behave defensively, this encourages attackes and therefore you create the self fulfilling prophesy)
    [a manager should be able to humanely break the news of redundancy to a staff member in less than 10 minutes!]

    I have used this approach through telling a man of the death of his infant son 4,000 miles away, breaking news of redundancy and in training managers for the latter.
    It works


  3. Try this book…
    Try this: “Crucial Conversations” By Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler
    Publisher McGraw-Hill
    Publication date 2002
    ISBN ISBN 0-07-140194-6

    Also “Crucial confrontations: Tools For Resolving Broken Promises, Violated Expectations and Bad Behavior” by the same authors.

    They have a web site at

  4. Bad news steps
    Delivering news on redundancy is much like delivering bad news and you can use the same classic step-by-step approach such as the following:

    1. Prepare the scene. Focus on the environment and timing.
    2. Make sure your opening words are effective.
    3. Rehearse so you can be more confident.
    4. Give them the headline quickly. Don’t make them suffer by guessing. They would not appreciate it.
    5. State your sentences positively. Bring the good out first and hide the bad a little bit.
    6. Demonstrate that you care.
    7. Show that they are not bad and they have a lot of positive qualities. It’s definitely not their fault.
    8. It’s not all that bad. You can always turn something negative to something positive.

    Training Material & Resources

  5. Thanks
    Just wanted to say thanks for your comments and useful tips.

    I really appreciate it.

  6. I have stuff!
    Hello Derek,

    I have some great info that a really helpful member of TrainingZone helped me with when I had to put something toegther. Please post your email address and I will happily send you the whole lot.

    Kind regards,

  7. email address
    Thanks for the offer Nikki,

    Can you email the material you have to at wmlga dot gov dot uk

    Thanks a lot



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