Delivering bad news can be quite challenging because we don’t want to hurt people, and we can be fearful of an explosive reaction. That fear tends to build up until the whole concept of delivering awful news becomes petrifying. We avoid it at all costs.
It starts with a friend asking you to their party that you don’t feel like going to. How do you say no?
Now you have to fire an employee, ugh! Or you have to tell everyone they have to have their project done by Monday, and it’s Friday.
How to Deliver Bad News should've been a course in HS
Sure, some people can deliver bad news with aplomb. But they arent’ the norm. Most people do try to avoid it or even tell lies to get out of giving ad news.
But know this, the people who can deliver it well have learned the techniques and practice them.
So don’t feel bad about yourself! Let’s go over the steps here and then you’ll want to put them into practice.
Starting with telling your friend you can’t make it to her backyard BBQ with all her workmates!
Yikes! That's some bad news!
Maybe you have to tell a friend that she bought the wrong dress. It’s not doing her any justice. Gasp!
So yeah, delivering bad news is challenging if you’re a kind person concerned for other peoples’ feelings.
Lots of people choose avoidance (when possible) and procrastination.
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Avoiding it can have disastrous results. It can cause you significant stress, which we know to be bad for your health. But avoiding it also makes it worse for the person you’re delivering the news to.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. From canceling on a friend to terminating an employee, there are ways to deliver bad news that can be as painless as possible. You can convey your negative message so well that you become the hero.
How to deliver bad news.
This doesn’t have to be challenging. If you use the following techniques you’ll soon be able to deliver bad news with aplomb. Some messages are harsh and not something the receiver wants to hear. All messages can be delivered in a way that your relationship becomes stronger.
- Make sure you have complete privacy. Depending on the severity of the news, make sure there are no interruptions.
- Schedule enough time to deliver the message, allow for processing time, and to answer questions. This will reduce the opportunity for explosive reactions.
- Be prepared with your message. Practice by saying it aloud. The process for delivering concepts aloud and thinking those thoughts in your head is different. How you convey this message plays a role in how your listener perceives it.
- Deliver terrible news with love. Feel genuine compassion for the person with whom you’re speaking. The concern will show in your voice.
- Deliver the message clearly and concisely. Then stop talking. No jokes.
- If there are multiple parts of bad news, wait for the person to process each piece before moving on to the next. Don’t be afraid of silence.
- Be available & able to answer questions afterward.
- Show empathy and remove blame. If you’re reducing an employee’s hours, make sure she knows what a great asset she is.
- Don’t procrastinate. This will only make it harder on you and possibly worse for your employee (or friend.) The longer it takes you to deliver the message, the more your mind will show you visions of worst-case scenarios. That’ll result in a decrease in your performance. If the bad news is telling a friend you can’t make her event, the sooner, the better so she can make other arrangements.
- Sit next to the person if possible. If delivering the message remotely, make sure you use video, you’re well lit, and you’re looking at your employee.
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Bad news is a part of life.
Bad news is a part of life, and if you’re avoiding it and allowing it to cause you to stress, something needs to be done. Just as with fear, the results are usually not as bad as you anticipate.
With a little practice, you can become a hero when delivering bad news.
What are your experiences with bad news? Has anyone ever given you news in a less-than sympathetic way? Do you have any other tricks for the readers to enjoy? Please share in the comments below.
Deliver bad news in a way that strengthens your relationships.
Delivering bad news in a way that strengthens your relationships is a part of having executive presence. It’s part of your strong and consistent verbal brand. Make sure you do it with panache. You should use a warm voice and deliver your message concisely.
You can learn all of this when you take The Executive Communicator video course.
What’s the worst piece of bad news you’ve ever had to deliver?
15 thoughts on “How to Deliver Bad News–10 Steps to Being the Hero”
I’ve recently been promoted to a senior level position, and while I’ve never loved giving bad news to people, it’s become very commonplace. Thank you for these insightful tips.
My pleasure, Mary Ann.
Even when we know we’re not “the bad guy,” it can be be tough to deliver bad news, so this is excellent advice.
Thank you, Diane!
Giving bad news is such important and difficult thing to tactifully do. Empathy and love are such important aspects. This is good advice that I will be sharing with colleagues.
Thank you, Will! Share away!
Awesome advice. Sometimes when delivering bad news, things can get very emotional. It’s also so important to know when to speak and when to remain silent so that the person on the receiving end of the bad news can have time to handle their emotions and take in the facts.
Thank you, Brittney!
I’m definitely a procrastinator when it comes to giving bad news. You’ve spelled it out very nicely here. Makes perfect sense. Thank you so much.
Having to give bad news is the worst, especially if you are an empathetic person. What do you think of layering (not sure of the technical term)? It’s when you give positive information, then slot in the bad news, then finish off with positive information.
I absolutely love that idea, Siobhan!
Yes, that’s a great idea. Always give positive feedback first!
I have always hated giving bad news! Just telling my friends in high school or in my 20s that I couldn’t go somewhere I said I would! It was never as bad as I thought. People usually take it pretty well. I know you’re talking about maybe firing people or taking them off a project, but I think these tips work for any kind of bad news.
We often face such situations where we have to deliver bad news but we don’t want to hurt that person, at such times it becomes very difficult but this tips and advice will help out while delivering such news.