How to Deliver Bad News

How to Deliver Bad News

There are moments in our lives that we have to deliver bad news to others for one reason or another? Regardless of the circumstances, no one loves to be in the position of the person delivering bad news. It takes a lot of courage and preparedness to give a piece of news to others that might break them emotionally. And that is what bad news does.

Picture the scenario in your mind:

You have been looking up your company’s financial records lately and some things seem not to be adding up.

Over the past few years, your business has been running on loss, and there seems to be no way out of the hole.

Having given careful thought to your present situation, you have come to a decision, one which would be hard for some to take.

You might decide that it is best to let some employees go, so you can still stay afloat while you work on changing your financial stand.

The problem now is that you have a good team of professionals who do their best on their jobs and exemplify teamwork and workplace unity.

It hurts you to see any of them leave but it is a decision you have to make for the good of your organization.

How do you deliver this bad news to the employees you want to let go? 

Certainly, this situation is a difficult one and one that no one ever wants to be in.

However, due to life uncertainties and important decisions that need to be made at times, we cannot avoid this.

Well, in this article, we will show you how to be skilled in delivering bad news.

You will learn what the dos and don’ts are when it comes to delivering bad news to others.

Understanding the Art of Delivering Bad News 

Surely, no one loves the idea of being the one to deliver bad news to another person.

This is because of the effect and impact that bad news has on others, especially in the business sector and work environment.

No one wants to wake up one day, go to work and receive the news that they’ve been fired.

In a similar vein, as an employee, you do not want to be the one to tell your employer that the business suffered losses in the last sales event you had.

Or perhaps you are not able to meet the deadline for a critical project and you need to deliver this bad news to your supervisor.

How about telling your customers about service downtime issues, website crashing, or product defects?

Well, the bad news is as the name clearly defines it; they are bad and ugly to hear, even when it’s news on a decision that had to be taken.

While it might be hard to be a bearer of bad news, there is an art of delivering this which you need to learn.

When you know the right way to deliver bad news, you can avoid the damaging impact that such news would normally have had on the receiver.

Some of the qualities that you need to apply when delivering bad news are honesty, empathy, and openness.

These and many more as we would learn in a later section of this article will help you deliver bad news the right way.

Hence, instead of the expected negative reaction and sometimes aggression that comes with bad news, you can get a more receptive one.

Things You Shouldn’t Do When Delivering Bad News 

The bad news is what it is; news that has to be delivered even though it is not pleasant or pleasurable.

Having that in mind, there might be a tendency to want to overlook the process of delivering this news or minimize the importance of using the right strategy.

However, some moral ethics and principles should be adhered to when delivering bad news to someone.

Following these principles can help to provide a “soft landing” of the news on the individual who is receiving it.

It can also ensure that the impact of the news on the receiver isn’t a harsh one and the memories can be positive.

To do this, here are some things you mustn’t do when delivering bad news:

Don’t Make Jokes 

The effect of bad news on the receiver is heavy enough, and as such making jokes while delivering it is a bad idea.

We know you might be trying to lighten the mood and make the ambiance comfortable for the person you are delivering the news to.

However, this can come off as disrespectful, rude, and showing a lack of regard for the emotions and feelings of the other party.

It’s bad news, and there is absolutely nothing humorous about it.

Making jokes in the process of delivering bad news to someone is insensitive and can negatively impact their reception of the news.

Don’t Say “I Know How You Feel”

We understand that using the above phrase might seem like a way to console who we are delivering bad news to and make them feel calmer.

However, it doesn’t work that way.

Regardless of whether or not you’ve experienced that situation that is in right now or has a similar experience, you don’t know how they feel.

This is especially important when you are delivering bad news such as firing someone from their job.

It is easy to say you know how the individual feels, but you do not, and the other person might find that statement hypocritical.

If you must say something, you could say: “I can imagine how you feel” as an alternative.

That would still achieve your aim, and not make you come off as being a hypocrite or insensitive from what you say.

Don’t Be Vague When Delivering the News 

While it is true that bad news is not pleasant and there is a tendency to want to water it down, it doesn’t help.

Most especially in a professional setting is it important to be as clear as possible when delivering bad news.

You do not want the person receiving the news to be confused as to what exactly to conclude or make of the news.

It is true that need to be considerate and empathetic while delivering bad news as we would soon see, but that doesn’t mean you should be vague.

As an example, if you are firing an employee, you will want to hit the nail on the head and also provide reasons for this.

This clarity will help in making the news more acceptable and wouldn’t paint you or the organization in a bad light.

Don’t Go Unprepared 

Another mistake you can make when delivering bad news to someone which you must avoid is being unprepared.

This is a very sensitive task, and as such you need to prepare yourself beforehand, to be effective in carrying it out.

One of the things you need to give thought to is how the other person will react and what to do if you get a negative or hostile reaction.

Hence, when going to deliver bad news, don’t go unprepared.

Don’t Delay 

Because of the difficulty of delivering bad news, we might sometimes put it off till a later time.

You might want to get yourself overly prepared or keep looking for the best time to deliver the news.

While preparations and using the ideal time are both important things to do, you shouldn’t delay in delivering bad news.

This is because delay can make issues get worse.

And if it is about an individual’s performance, for example, this might worsen and cause more damage before you share the news.

Delaying in delivering bad news only makes you have a more uphill task when you finally decide to deliver the news.

Don’t “Beat Around the Bush”

The phrase “beating around the bush” refers to a  process whereby one avoids the main subject or point of discussion and follows distractions.

You can beat around the bush when delivering bad news if you continue to make small talk instead of going straight to the point.

If you do this, you are showing that you do not respect the person’s time and neither do you understand the weight of the information.

The news is going to be hard already, so it’s best to get straight to it instead of going about in circles.

Don’t Offer Advice That You Are Not Asked For 

It is only human to want to soften the weight of the bad news you just delivered to another person.

In a bid to do this and comfort them, you might feel that it is best to offer pieces of advice to the person.

You should avoid this at that moment, as you might aggravate the situation.

The person who is sad at the bad news might even become hostile and probably get violent as a result.

Hence, unless they solicit for it, it is best not to follow up bad news with advice.

How to Deliver Bad News – What You Should Do 

We have seen what you shouldn’t do when you have to deliver bad news as those actions might worsen the situation and not be effective.

Now, let us see the things you should do when you need to deliver bad news:

Prepare in Advance 

The first thing you need to do even before going to deliver bad news is to prepare yourself.

Preparations will involve thinking about what you want to say, and how you are going to say it.

You also need to prepare yourself emotionally for what might be the outcome or reaction from the person receiving the news.

It would be good to anticipate questions that might arise and how best to answer those questions.

To make this part of the preparation more effective, you can do role play.

Roleplay involves putting yourself in the other person’s place and trying to see how you would react if you are the one receiving the news.

The person receiving the news might cry, lash out, get angry or at worse get aggressive.

Be aware of all these possible reactions and prepare yourself for what to say and do in such a situation.

You should be ready to be professional in both your delivery and control of the situation and preparation will help you.

Be Prompt About It 

Under the section on what you shouldn’t do when delivering bad news,  one of them is not to delay or procrastinate.

You must be prompt about delivering this news and ensure that they hear it from you first.

Especially in the workplace where you are the leader and you need to deliver bad news to your subordinates or employees do you need to be prompt.

Your credibility will be at stake if you delay in giving this news and the person who is meant to receive it hears it elsewhere.

Imagine an employee who you’ve decided to let go getting to hear about the news of downsizing in the organization and how it affects him from co-workers first.

That might make you lose the respect of this one and your authority and integrity can be called into question.

Therefore, don’t unduly put off the job of delivering bad news to another time if you want to be effective.

Show Empathy 

Empathy in layman’s terms refers to putting yourself in the shoes of others.

That means putting yourself in the position of the person receiving bad news and trying to imagine how you would feel.

Think about what impact the news would have on you, what you stand to lose as a result of the bad news, and how you would react.

Trying to understand their side or perspective this way can teach you the proper way to deliver bad news.

Go Straight to the Point

Relating this to the points under what you shouldn’t do when delivering bad news, this is the opposite of “beating around the bush”.

You go straight to the point by being clear, concise, and direct on what bad news you have to deliver.

There is a tendency to want to make small talks or divert attention from the real issue on the ground but that doesn’t help.

It only puts more pressure on you and also on the person receiving the news.

Therefore, it is best to get straight to the point while still maintaining calmness and composure though.

Be Composed and Professional 

Granted, the process of delivering bad news can be quite stressful and makes you nervous or anxious.

However, you must show composure and act professionally when delivering bad news.

Your body language, facial expression, and composure matter a lot and can affect how the receiver of the message takes it.

To be more composed, you can take a deep breath and be calm under the circumstances.

Your professionalism and composure when delivering bad news can also help the receiver of the news to be more receptive.

Be Honest About Everything 

The news you are delivering is already bad news, and you will only make it worse by withholding important information.

The person receiving the news deserves to know everything there is to know about the issue or matter on the ground.

Hence, try to be open and honest about everything and do not pass false information.

Watering down the truth of the matter or attempting to minimize the effect by withholding information will only give them false hope.

However, being honest will help them to accept the reality of things and better come to grabs with the news.

Give Them Listening Ears

Sometimes, the bad news you have to deliver might be a decision that you take and that you cannot change.

Even at that, you should give allow them time to express themselves while you listen attentively to them.

This will make them feel respected and validated and can help them better receive the bad news you have to deliver.

Offer Solutions (If There Are)

Sometimes, you might have solutions or recommendations that can help someone cope with bad news.

You should be generous with these solutions if you have them.

However, you should be careful to only provide solicited advice and solutions and do so when the circumstances permit.

There are certain situations whereby offering suggestions or advice might come off as hypocritical or disrespectful.

Therefore, use good insight to know when to offer solutions and suggestions and do it right.

Choose the Right Time and Setting

As important as the presentation or delivery is for bad news, so also is the timing and setting for this.

It is best to deliver bad news to an individual in a private setting instead of amid others, except the news is for a group.

Such a setting allows them to express themselves freely.

Additionally, you need to choose the right time to deliver this bad news.

The means for delivering this news is equally important, as a face-to-face private conversation proves more effective than online or digital means.

Final Thoughts – How to Deliver Bad News 

Very likely, you’ve had to deliver bad news at some point before, especially if you are a business leader or manager.

It could be slashing salaries, cutting down on off days, announcing losses in sales, or even letting an employee go.

No one loves to deliver bad news because of the high emotions involved and the sensitive nature of this.

However, knowing it is something you have to do at some point should impel on you the importance of learning the art of delivery.

Prepare well in advance, be empathetic when delivering the news and try to be as open and honest as possible.

These and many more as discussed can help you master the art of delivering bad news.