The more emotional competence managers have, the better they are at announcing and carrying out layoffs, says psychologist and executive coach Karol Wasylyshyn, PsyD, of Philadelphia. Essentially, this means they can understand and contain their own emotions, while tuning in to their employees' feelings and needs. But since such competence doesn't always come easily to managers, Wasylyshyn and other psychologists are helping them to cultivate it.

Wasylyshyn has even devised a formula, called "SOSMART," to help managers negotiate tough situations with employees. Here's how it works:

  • Self-observation (SO). Employers need to work through their own emotions about the firings, ensuring that they don't project their own anxiety and anger on employees. Doing so only makes employees feel spurned or blamed, says Wasylyshyn.

  • Self-management (SM). Employers should communicate with people in an honest, straightforward way, checking their emotions as much as possible so that they don't inflame tempers or fuel nasty rumors.

  • Attunement (A). Managers need to show empathy for and sensitivity to their employees. Wasylyshyn tells them to "put yourself in the skin of others. Be in touch with employees' fears, concerns and anxieties."

  • Relationship traction (RT). Employers should preserve and work at their relationships with employees, advising them about future plans, offering references and linking them with outplacement guidance.