Ten Tips to Get Good at Communicating Bad News

Do you avoid communicating bad news?

As managers, and leaders, we anticipate challenges, take on responsibility and drive results.  Our ability to communicate well gives us an advantage when motivating, providing direction and giving feedback, however, no matter how good you are at communicating, nobody likes to communicate bad news.  We all dread reporting poor results, pointing out mistakes and letting employees go…. but, it is an important part of the job; better to do it well than to avoid doing it at all.

Here are Ten Tips to Get Good at Communicating Bad News:

1) Make sure your message is heartfelt.

Bad news should always be given for a good reason.   Your good reason should be at the forefront of your message and the person receiving the bad news should walk away understanding why the bad news had to be given, even if they did not like to hear it.

2) Be accountable.

You are giving bad news because it is your responsibility to do so.  Hold yourself accountable and never blame bad news on others.  If the people who receive the news see you as only a messenger, they will feel that they are not important enough to be spoken to directly; moral will be damaged more than it should be.  Another impact of your accountability is the buck/message stops with you.  This allows next steps to take place and people to move forward.

3) Be direct.

Nobody likes to hear bad news, however it is even worse when you think you are being told something but not sure if you are hearing the truth.  Come straight to the point, explain your position, and try to foresee/answer any questions prior to them being asked.

4) Let your audience develop your conclusion on their own.

Sometimes the ah-ha moment needs to come from the receiver of the message, not the sender, in order for it to really sink in.  You can do this by sitting down with the person you need to communicate your message to, let them see things from your perspective, the options you need to choose from, and ask them what they would do if in your position.  You may not have to tell them your decision after all; they will propose it to you or possibly come up with a legitimate alternative for you.

5) Talk individually before addressing bad news to a group.

Reactions to bad news are sometimes minimized if you have one-on-one discussions before you make an announcement to a group.  Pull people aside and be candid with them.  Get some feedback prior to the announcement meeting so that you can incorporate their thoughts into your presentation.  You will also feel calmer knowing you are not alone in the room because others already know what you are going to say.

6) Come prepared with solutions.

If you are reporting bad news you should have some solutions in mind to lead individuals to the next steps either you or they can take to move forward.  What does this news mean for the individual, the department or the company?  Where do you go from here?  You want to be prepared to address this dialog before people walk away, otherwise they will focus on the problem, not the solution, and it will be very difficult to rally them back toward your goal.

7) Communicate often: both good and bad news.

If you are an effective communicator all the time, people will feel you have respect for them by your constant connection.  This respect will make them more willing to listen to what you have to say and understand why you have to say it.

8) Be consistent in your message.

Repetition is key to getting others to understand your message, especially if you are presenting it to multiple groups.  Use the same presentation; write down key points so you are sure to include them.  If you addressed questions during a previous discussion, make sure you address those same questions in the next discussions.

9) Make sure you are understood.

Allow time for questions after presenting the news.  Take the time to follow-up on the solutions you presented to your audience.  Bad news should not be left as bad news.  Show your leadership skills by ensuring you can turn the bad into a positive forward momentum.

10) Know that it should not be easy.

If giving bad news is ever easy for you…something is wrong.  You can improve your skills, preparedness, and ability to bounce back after giving bad news, but it is very normal and human to feel uncomfortable about doing it.  As long as you are sincere, and focused on the next steps, you can improve your abilities without losing your compassion.

Sometimes communicating bad news is as “simple” as having to admit that you made a mistake.  Being accountable, direct, and prepared with a plan to move forward, all apply to admitting mistakes.  It is also important to add on a “lessons learned” to your thought process and your discussion…How did the mistake happen, what are you doing to ensure it does not happen again?  Holding on to information because you are afraid to come forward is not the answer.  You will earn respect by owning your error and asking for help when you need it.


Written by Lisa Woods, President Lisa Woods Consulting & Founder of ManagingAmericans.com

Lisa is a dynamic business leader & author located in Western New York with more than 20 years experience leading, managing and driving growth in the corporate world. Today she partners with business leaders to understand their vision, identify internal and external roadblocks, define a practical strategic path forward and guide a successful transformation. This work includes strategy definition & goal setting, organizational design, facilitating team buy-in, establishing visual metrics, internal and external research studies, business feasibility assessments, and investor insight into organizational strength, weakness & strategic opportunity. She helps business leaders drive growth & increase profits.

Strategic Consulting ǀ Management Consulting: Strategy Realized

      Contact Lisa

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s