Delivering Bad News – Creating Positives from Negatives

Delivering bad news is never fun, but sometimes it is necessary.  As an employee, you might have to explain that your project has reached a dead end, or that sales are down —again.  As a manager, you might have to tell your staff about new budget cuts, or give an employee a negative performance review.  It’s natural to want to put off bad news for another day; but with the right presentation, you can ensure that your listeners walk away with the information they need and not a chip on their shoulder.  If you have trouble discussing disappointments, read on for dos and don’ts that will have your coworkers thanking you for the update instead of shooting the messenger.

DO practice your delivery before you meet.

Practice makes perfect.  Review what you want to say before you tell your coworker, and you will feel more confident (and less uncomfortable) when you actually have to do it.

DON’T let bad news come as a surprise.

It’s never a good idea to wait until the last minute.  Small, frequent updates, even if they’re negative, show respect for others’ time and can avoid angry reactions in the future.

DO make clear, specific points.

General complaints are unhelpful and do not get results.  To have a productive conversation, make a list of particular areas that are problems so that everyone understands what to fix.

DON’T withhold information.

If there are several reasons why your project can’t progress, mention all of them.  Bad news is often a problem that needs a solution; if part of the problem is missing, someone could choose the wrong solution.

DO show empathy for the recipient’s feelings.

Nobody likes to deliver bad news, but nobody likes to hear it, either.  If the recipient has an emotional response, acknowledge it.  He/she will be more likely to appreciate your message.

DON’T let feelings affect your decision.

If your coworker gets emotional, it’s important to treat him/her with dignity and respect.  However, emotions can’t control the conversation.  Don’t ‘take back’ the bad news to be kind, because it will only cause confusion.

DO end positively, offering solutions for the future.

Problems need to be solved, so be prepared to offer steps toward making bad news better.  Your coworker will see that you put thought and effort into the meeting and leave with hope instead of anger.

DON’T ignore feedback.

After stating the issue and possible solutions, ask if there’s any information you’re missing.  Maybe your coworker is aware of the problem, but there are other factors involved.  Sensitivity to other points of view and acceptance of advice can help communication in every workplace.

Most people are never totally comfortable giving bad news, but it is possible to improve your skills in this area.  The next time it’s your turn to discuss something unpleasant, follow the advice above—it’s sure to turn out better than you thought!