A self-compassionate way to do what nobody likes to do

“It really pains me to say this, but…” That’s how most challenging conversations start at work. Especially those that deliver bad news. Whether it’s a bad performance review, an inevitable layoff, or an immediate change, communicating bad news makes HR professionals and managers feel worried, stressed, and anxious. How can you use compassion and empathy to reduce the burden of a natural part of your job?

Let’s start by understanding what happens to you first.

Contact Us

Dealing with being the bearer of bad news

You may understand this is part of your role, but that doesn’t prevent you from feeling bad about it. Just like the joy you feel when you tell a new candidate they are hired or announce a promotion, you can also feel shame, guilt, and fear when it’s time for the bad news. It’s only human.

A study on the effects of carrying out the necessary evils on HR professionals and managers found that people in those positions literally feel they are harming someone. After all, it’s not just a position. Their family, their dreams, and their stability are being affected.

With all this in your head, no wonder you feel nervous or ashamed to say those things. And yes, you’re right. Exposure to these situations constantly can lead to burnout, depression, and severe anxiety issues.

Is there a way you can be more resilient to these consequences? Let’s find out how compassion and empathy can help you.

supporting each other

5 ways to Deliver Bad News at Work with Compassion and Empathy

Prepare ahead

This means understanding why this news is a fact and getting in touch with how you feel about it to avoid your emotional outburst, losing control of the conversation, and feeling terrible for a sustained period.

We recommend choosing a meditation about changes, expectations, or letting go. Even if it’s just a 10-minute practice, it will help you soothe your nervous system. Which will develop a sensation of serenity within to carry on with the task.

Choose the right setting

Timing and location are important. Imagine you are the one receiving the bad news. Would you carry on working normally after it? Would you feel less stressed if it is communicated in front of everyone?

how to deliver bad news at work

Choose a quiet private location where you and the employee can discuss the matter without distractions or interruptions. And, if possible, try to have this conversation by the end of the day so they, and you, can regain some strength back at home instead of having to go through the day with all those emotions active.

Be clear and direct

Deliver the news clearly and directly, without being insensitive or overly emotional. Avoid sugarcoating the message or providing false hope, as this can cause further confusion and disappointment.


We know you may feel nervous and accidentally make a joke or say something sarcastic. That’s why it is important to prepare ahead and, if needed, practice the message a couple of minutes before the meeting.

Highlight their strengths as well

It’s a way to offer them empathy and help them recognize that this situation is a bump on their path, not the end of the road. Be mindful about how you do it, though. Because if we are talking about a layoff, they may ask if they are so good at something, why is this decision being made?

Our advice would be to explain that this situation is a corporate decision and that even though they recognize the person’s strengths and value to the company, at this moment, they need to do this to keep moving in a specific business direction.

Engage in self-care practices

After those meetings, it’s time to take care of yourself. It’s common that you keep thinking about this conversation at home and even days after. What’s important is to acknowledge your emotions and thoughts with self-compassion.

deliver bad news at work

You are hurting and feel worried because you know this is causing discomfort to someone else, but remember that changes are part of life. And that bad news is inevitable for everyone. A few suggestions to disconnect mindfully and feel better are:

  • Take a walk and disconnect from your phone.
  • Go for a run, stretch, or do a gentle yoga practice.
  • Do a creative activity. It could be painting, a puzzle, dancing, taking pictures, etc.
  • Talk about your emotions with your partner, a coworker, or a close friend you feel safe with.
  • Meditate before going to bed or the following day. It’s a simple way to be aware of your emotional state and to build resilience.
  • Forgive yourself. You may feel concerned or sad about this situation, but remember that it’s part of your role, and you are doing the best you can for them, your company, and yourself.

We hope this short guide has helped you go through the motions with more compassion. And that you have found some comfort in knowing that you are not alone in this.

If you need support for yourself or your teams, don’t hesitate to contact us for a demo and build a happier and more resilient workplace.