Delivering Bad News Effectively

Industry Matters Newsletter

Delivering bad news is rarely a pleasant experience.  While none of us can completely avoid bad news, you can control how to deliver it.  In this course, Gemma Roberts explains how to confidently communicate bad news with tact and how to make the process as constructive and least painful as possible. 

The key to delivering bad news is preparation.  Gemma encourages thinking through the stakeholders and communication channel first.  Depending on the circumstance and people involved, the message might be best delivered through email, a phone call, or face to face meeting.  Decide what will be the most appropriate channel and then focus on the message to be delivered.  Prepare the key points, focus on the facts without sugarcoating and be clear on the justification for a decision.  Lastly, rehearse the delivery.  If possible, consult with a trusted colleague to gain perspective on how the message comes across.  Sufficient practice will help to reduce the emotional impact and allow you to become more confident in delivering the message.   Take time to prepare but do not delay in communicating the message.  It can be tempting to procrastinate a challenging situation, but the more time you can give someone to digest the information, the better. 

Delivering bad news is not just about getting your message across.  As the person conveying the message, your role is also to listen and make the process of digesting bad news more constructive.  Understand that your communication style may not be the best for someone else.   Be empathetic, clear and direct in communication and avoid common pitfalls such as negative body language, conveying mixed messages, or the “positive feedback sandwich.”  This style of delivering bad news does not always succeed in softening the blow and does not appear genuine.  Another common pitfall is not listening, however, listening can open up debate and derail the meeting.  Receivers of bad news want to feel that their perspective has been heard, therefore managers should listen, sensitively show understanding and then move on. 

What you do after the meeting is as critical as the preparation and delivery of the message itself.  It can be easy to assume that once you’ve delivered your message, the other person has received it and is ready to take the next steps.  Depending on the circumstance, it may be appropriate to set up another meeting for alignment.  A follow up meeting gives time for emotions to settle and for the information to be digested.  As the person delivering bad news, this also allows for reflection on the positive aspects versus areas for improvement in the first meeting.   When paired with effective preparation, a follow up meeting completes the tools to confidently communicate bad news with tact and achieve the best possible results.