Melissa DeLay helps CEOs find good ways to deliver bad news. That her business increased exponentially because of the pandemic may come as little surprise.

DeLay has honed a framework for guiding companies through difficult situations during 22 years in crisis and strategic communications consulting with her Roseville-based firm, TruPerception.

"There is science behind communication," DeLay said. "There's a specific way to write words. There are words to avoid, there are words you should be using. There's a correct time to deliver a message. There's a number of times that you have to repeat it in order for it to really resonate. There are the right vehicles to use."

Too many CEOs, however, don't realize that closed-door meetings and poor body language, for example, speak volumes even when they're not making announcements or sending emails about an issue.

"The world is basically filled with bad news," DeLay said. "Unfortunately very few people know how speak and write in a way that is transparent, gets results, helps them come from a position of power and not be taken advantage of or not come across as overbearing, pushy or aggressive, things that no leader really wants to be seen as."

Change is hard and communication is the key to change, DeLay said. That's why she offers free "cheat sheets" on how to let an employee go and how to avoid a failed merger.

Those may come in handy based on what DeLay sees leaders needing the most help with now. In one camp are companies that are growing, making acquisitions and looking for talent but struggling to handle constant rapid expansion. In the other are those starting to downsize, cutting costs and fearing where the economy will go.

Informal communication is more powerful than formal announcements, DeLay said. Some leaders got better at it during the pandemic, letting their guard down slightly to get to know employees, though some of that "organic and natural" communication is going away.

"I tell leaders all the time, if you want productivity to go up, you have to make it clear in your communication that you care about the people that work for you," DeLay said.

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

Before making an announcement concerning a disruption, senior leaders need to prepare front-line managers to answer questions because employees will approach them first.

Leaders should be more informal and more transparent, DeLay said. But they shouldn't wear their heart on their sleeve. In a recent email to clients, DeLay wrote about a CEO who posted a tearful photo of himself after laying off two employees.

"I would have said to this CEO, what matters most is the employee in this situation — not the leader," DeLay said. "Talk to your executive coach, your mom, your dog or your best friend, anybody else to give you the help that you need to get through this."

When emotions rise, the fight-or-flight response kicks in and we don't think clearly.

"Be transparent, be authentic, but don't let emotion come into the equation in the moment," DeLay said. "Just press the pause button so that you can communicate and your brain is working and the best possible result can come out. You want to show empathy but don't let your emotions lead you. A leader's job is to neutralize emotion."

Todd Nelson is a freelance writer in Lake Elmo. His e-mail is