7 things emotionally intelligent leaders do when they deliver bad news

No one enjoys delivering hard news, but emotionally intelligent leaders make sure to do these things.

7 things emotionally intelligent leaders do when they deliver bad news
[Photo: sanjeri/Getty Images]

Delivering bad news is part of the job that no leader looks forward to.


While it’s never easy, there are ways of carrying out this task that are more effective than others. The first thing to understand is that there is going to be fallout from the bad news that can’t be avoided.

However, there are plenty of cases where the fallout has been more about how the news was delivered, rather than the news itself. While it’s impossible to predict and manage the repercussions from unwelcome news, emotionally intelligent leaders know how to convey the message in the least damaging way. Handled well, the organization can adapt, move forward, and keep its reputation intact. When handled clumsily, with little thought and regard for those who are affected, it can leave a long lasting stain on an organization.

Here are seven ways emotionally intelligent leaders do when they have to deliver tough news:


1. They know timing is crucial

The time to deliver unwanted information is when we have it all—not before or later. Delivering news before we know everything will cause fear and anxiety, and delaying after the facts are known will cause suspicion as to why the release came late.

Emotionally intelligent leaders know that it’s crucial to get in front of bad news, as delays will cause rumors that can magnify the situation in a negative way. They will also consider the impact on their people in terms of what timing works best for them.

2. They stick to the facts

The less that can be said, the better. And while it’s best not to sugar-coat or minimize the situation, it’s also important to not make things sound worse than they are. Provide the necessary stakeholders with the facts, and deliver them clearly and succinctly. The best way to do this is to prepare. Knowing exactly what you want to say will help you avoid going off script when you deliver the news.


3. They are open and non-defensive

Leaders high in emotional intelligence are aware that there may be anger, accusations, and pushback from the audience. Becoming defensive will only exacerbate the situation. Staying open and accepting of the emotions people express allows the opportunity for real dialogue. Emotionally aware leaders can also use the opportunity to share their own feelings regarding the situation, but need to avoid blame or finger pointing. “Vulnerability conjures relatability,” says Don-E Coady, creative director at Dc Design House Inc. “Feelings control most decision-making processes; logic alone won’t connect.”

4. They highlight the positive

If possible, find something about the situation that is positive. Perhaps it could be a lesson that has been learned that will help in the future. Sometimes a condition that looks bleak in the moment, turns out to have positive outcomes that have not been anticipated. If you can identify something positive, share it with employees along with delivering any hard news.

5. They treat everyone effected respectfully

Everyone will be watching to see how leaders handle the situation. Those who are not directly affected will watch to see if those who are, will be treated fairly. Almost all organizations claim that their people are their most valuable asset and are to be treated with respect. However, people will make up their own minds as to whether the organization lives up to the principles they claim to operate under. “In the age of social media and employer review platforms like Glassdoor, the distance between good reputation and bad hype are a click apart,” says Coady.


6. They focus on solutions

If there are to be job reductions, people who will be let go will be concerned about what the company is offering in terms of financial aid, helping to find other work and other means of softening the blow. Those affected will be looking to see if the people who they are working for have thought of their needs. This is the time for leaders to make it clear that they have considered their people and have taken the time and effort to look at possible solutions.

7. They consider language

Emotionally intelligent leaders don’t talk down to people, but they also are aware of how their reports speak and use language and terms that they are familiar with and will understand. When delivering hard news (and in all settings, really) avoid jargon and terms that are used mainly in management circles. These can be misinterpreted and raise suspicions and resentment from those who are affected.


About the author

Harvey Deutschendorf is an emotional intelligence expert, author and speaker. To take the EI Quiz go to


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