Getting good at delivering or receiving bad news dramatically raises the success ceiling.

Inability to give or get bad news is a big success limiter.

I’ll never forget the first time I fired someone. It was awful. I didn’t sleep well for a week. The second time was awful too, but I was able to sleep OK after just a few days. Since then, it’s been hard the day of the firing, but that’s about it.

Two things happened to make it less painful. First, I saw how quickly all parties recovered and had a happy next step. Much easier and quicker than you imagine. Everyone ends up OK. Second, I got better and faster at the delivery process.

The only way to deliver news like that is to look the person in the eye and open the meeting with, “We’re letting you go.” No beating around the bush, no long setup. Say it. Own it. Be direct. Be clear. Be kind. Be resolute.

Delivering bad news sucks, but if you can get good at it, you will become so much more free and able to take on so much more leadership. It’s cleansing and relieving to be direct and honest and just say the thing they don’t want to hear when it needs to be said.

I’ve gotten better at hearing stuff I don’t want to hear as well. It’s much easier than being the one to say it, but it still takes effort to be detached enough to get the information and act appropriately without letting emotion run the show. (One odd fact is that people who are good at receiving bad news don’t make it easier on the giver. Fire someone who is clear, direct, gracious, and awesome about it and you feel a lot worse than if they respond like a petulant child!)

I sometimes get emails from strangers pitching and proposing various things. Some of them are open ended requests to talk about nothing in particular. I hate getting these. It’s a kind of bad news. Why? Because it puts me in a position where I have to do something I don’t like. If I don’t respond, I feel weird because I generally make a point to respond to everything earnestly. If I say yes, I’m lying. I don’t want to. And I have to take a call I don’t look forward to. If I say no, I have to deliver bad news to them.

The more Spock-like I’ve learned to be about getting and giving bad news, the easier it is. I don’t get bothered by the ask anymore, I just treat it as a fact. And I don’t fret about telling them no either. It’s an equally inoffensive, impersonal fact.

It’s amazing how much more can be done without fear of hearing or saying stuff that’s not fun.