Don’t Shoot the Messenger: 6 Tips for Delivering Tough Messages to Employees

Delivering Tough Messages.

No one likes to be the bearer of bad news. Managers and executives are often faced with the need to provide honest feedback or delivering tough messages that may not be easily received. Sometime an employee is not performing to standards or needs to work on a personal or professional issue impacting their work or others around them. Other times your company may make a good business decision that may not be seen as favorable among the masses, and you’re responsible for communicating the news.

While some people seem to have been sprinkled with linguistic fairy dust upon birth, finding just the right words to say at just the right time, the majority of us find it difficult to convey appropriate verbiage and end up fumbling through delivering challenging messages.

The following are a few tactics that can help hone your communication skills under pressure.

  1. Be prepared. Understand the reason behind the message and how any decisions were reached. Be sure that it is the final decision that you are tasked to convey. (Nothing like going back and forth with inconsistent messaging!) Preparing in advance will allow you to anticipate questions that may arise so you can formulate answers in advance. Getting caught off guard can contribute to a situation. If there is something you do not know – admit it and promise to find the answers.
  2. Know your audience. Who is the target of your message? What level of the organization do they represent? What do they care most about in the workplace? How will they react to your message? Consider the impact of your message (both professionally and personally) on your audience.
  3. Be sympathetic but firm. Consider feelings, but do not sugar coat your message. Stick to the facts and avoid demeaning or humiliating anyone. Focus on the particular behavior or issue you are addressing instead of the individual.
  4. Speak clear and concise messages. You may be tempted to soften the impact of your message by inserting topics that are not relevant to the message.  This may cause more confusion. On the other hand, if you fail to give enough information, the audience may have a hard time understanding the message and can resort to speculations and assumptions. State your message in a brief but clear and concise manner.
  5. Be open and supportive. Your job is not complete after merely delivering the message.  Be prepared to listen and respond appropriately. While you cannot change the situation, helps to ease the recipient’s feelings and may ultimately positively impact the outcome of the situation. Show them you are human and empathetic to their concerns.
  6. Allow for follow-up conversations. Just because the message has been delivered does not mean that the matter has been completely resolved. All parties involved should have a clear understanding of what next steps are and know who they can reach out to with any questions or concerns they may not be ready to discuss immediately.

Thoughtful communication skills lead to enhanced interpersonal relationships at work and result in increased employee engagement. The next time you are faced with the challenging task of delivering a difficult message, consider the above strategies to better prepare yourself.

Let's Connect! Schedule a time that works best for you.


Tandem HR is a PEO in the Chicagoland area that assists hundreds of small and mid-sized businesses with various employee relations issues daily. They also help clients save time and money while growing their business by taking on the administrative tasks associated with human resources, benefits, payroll, tax administration, regulatory compliance and risk management.

For more information on Tandem HR or PEOs, visit or call (630) 928-0510.