How to Deliver Bad News

I am out of podcasts, having been all caught up. On my BlackBerry I found some old Toastmasters podcasts, one of which is on delivering bad news. Timely, since I had to deliver such a message about expectations. I decided to remind the staff about the guidelines, and throw in some humor, so I sent the following email:

At this time of joy and peace, and planning for the next year, I thought it appropriate to remind you that we do have guidelines in the wiki on giving bad news. These guidelines can also work in our personal lives. For example, tomorrow, saying something like “I’m sorry, Moe, that you didn’t get a pony for Christmas, but unfortunately you have been such a rotten kid all year that your mother spent all the money for the pony on booze just to try and cope with you” is not the best way to put your message across.

You can use the guidelines below to deliver a better message:


Neutral beginning

  • A buffer, the speaker and audience accept as true.

Immediate delivery of the bad news

  • Brief, one sentence if possible, very clearly stating what needs to be told.
  • Do not repeat it because it is painful so keep it brief. Repeating it we sometimes restate, and that can create problems by introducing some inconsistencies, or we may say something that is inappropriate, insensitive.
  • Avoid negative terms like Unfortunately, Mistake, Misunderstanding, Miscommunication, because people will pick up on those words. Don’t be too apologetic. This can draw out the cynicism of the audience.
  • If you say you are sorry people can ask: “if you are sorry, how/why did you get yourself in this situation?”
  • Be careful, depending on the situation, to admit to anything that can indicate liability or culpability.
  • Using words like But or However can cause people to tense up so avoid those.

Impact on the Client/Audience

  • Include the word ‘You’ as much as possible. After hearing bad news, people want to next hear “How will this affect me?”

Details & facts, including What’s Next.

  • Sometimes explain how we got into the situation. Can include the next step: What do we do now, what do we look forward to?

Merry Christmas,


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