For business leaders, delivering bad news in a good way is a skill that takes effort

Melissa DeLay helps CEOs find great ways to deliver bad news. It may be a little surprising that her business has grown exponentially due to the pandemic.

Over 22 years of crisis and strategic communications consulting, DeLay has honed a framework for guiding companies through adversity with her Roseville-based firm, TruPerception.

“There is science behind the communication,” DeLay said. “There is a certain way of writing. There are words to avoid, there are words you should use. There is a right time to deliver the message. There are many times you have to repeat it to really resonate. There are appropriate vehicles to use.

Yet too many CEOs are unaware of closed-door meetings and poor body language, such as being able to speak even if they haven’t made an announcement or emailed about an issue.

“The world is basically full of bad news,” DeLay said. “Unfortunately, very few people know how to speak and write in a transparent way that gets results that help them get out of positions of power without being taken advantage of and without giving the impression of being domineering, aggressive or aggressive. Things no leader really wants to be seen as.”

Change is hard, and communication is key to change, DeLay said. That’s why she offers free “cheat sheets” on how to get employees to leave and how to avoid a failed merger.

These could come in handy depending on what DeLay believes leaders need help most right now. In one camp, companies are growing, making acquisitions and looking for talent, but struggling to cope with continued rapid expansion. The other is companies that are starting to downsize, cut costs and worry about where the economy is headed.

Informal communication is more effective than formal announcements, DeLay said. Some leaders are doing better during the pandemic, letting their guard down a bit to get to know employees, even though some “organic and natural” communications are disappearing.

“I always tell leaders that if you want to be more productive, you have to make it clear in your communication that you care about the people who work for you,” DeLay said.

DeLay recommends talking about the business objectively, focusing on what makes sense for the company, customers and employees in the event of a disruption. She said employees responded better to everyday language.

Before making announcements about disruptions, senior leaders need to prepare front-line managers to answer questions because employees will be the first to reach them.

Delray said leaders should be more informal and more transparent. But they should not stand idly by. In a recent email to clients, DeLay wrote that a CEO posted a tearful photo of himself after firing two employees.

“I would say to the CEO that it’s the employees, not the leaders, that matter most in this situation,” DeLay said. “Talk to your executive trainer, your mom, your dog or your best friend and anyone else to give you the help you need to get through.”

When emotions are high, the fight-or-flight response kicks in and we don’t think about it.

“Be transparent, be authentic, but don’t let emotions get into the equation right now,” DeLay said. “Just hit the pause button and you’re communicating, your brain is working, and the best possible outcome is possible. You want to show empathy, but don’t let your emotions guide you. The leader’s job It’s neutralizing emotions.”

Todd Nelson is a freelance writer based in Lake Elmo. His email is

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