How to Give Bad News

So, I’m working on a project that I can’t talk about right now for very good reason. It’s killing me because there is a ton going on with this project that I’d love to be relaying to you and the pictures are amazing (not like “oh, this coffee cake is AMAZING!”, more like “I have nothing to say” AMAZING…I digress). The basic theme, however, is bad news. My new title officially reads:

Allyson L. Case, Bad News Bear

I hate giving bad news and I think most people feel the same way. It’s awkward, it’s stressful, and it’s an unknown. You are at the mercy of the recipient’s response. To some degree we are helpless to control how other people respond, to some degree we are not. There is an art to giving bad news the same way there is an art to pitching a sale. So, here are some tips on delivering bad news:

1. Say it first. Don’t do a lead up. Whether you’re firing someone, breaking up, or announcing that you backed the car through the garage instead of into the garage, just come out with it. First sentence. Then, follow up with an explanation. Your recipient is ready to listen now. If you lead up to the issue, they’re likely just waiting for you to make your point and you’re going to have to repeat yourself anyway.

2. Be factual. I know I say this a lot, it applies to a lot of conversations. Know your facts and state them. It’s important that you and your recipient are on the same page in order to move forward.

3. Plan for recovery. Have a thoughtful plan, don’t send bad news into the abyss. “We can offer you severance,” “We can still be friends,” “We can repair the garage within 2 weeks.” Your recipients are still in receiving and reacting mode, likely not planning mode. Planning is helpful. Planning is positive.

4. It’s business and it’s personal. Face it, bad news is personal. Even if it is a professional matter, it evokes a personal reaction. This reaction can be indifference, it’s still personal. Be sensitive to this and manage your emotions. Take your cues from your recipient. If they joke, you can joke – if they don’t joke, absolutely do not joke. If they cry, be sympathetic. If they are angry, stay calm. If they ask a lot of questions, answer factually – even if the answer is “I don’t know.” Remember, this is the first they’re hearing of this news – you’ve already had time to adjust and plan for recovery.

5. Determine next steps. Remember that plan? Now execute. Do not deliver bad news and run out of the room flailing your arms. Set up next steps and keep everyone looking forward and moving past the issue.

Hopefully using these steps will transition me from Bad News Bear to Recovery Ninja. It’s a lateral promotion.


Where did the rest of this beam go? Nobody knows….

  • Eugene Kovalenko
    Posted at 03:44h, 18 April Reply

    Love this post. Will use these steps with my clients when needed.

    • Integro Rehab
      Posted at 18:49h, 28 October Reply

      Thanks, Eugene!

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