JS Tip 485: Delivering Bad News

From the Communication Workshops: Delivering Bad News

Our friend Parry Osborn of WesTech asked for a tip about how to deliver bad news.

Delivering bad news is a sensitive task. Consider a five-step process: 

  • First, prep the person for the bad news. Use a preparatory statement such as “I have bad news.” The statement steels the person to what’s coming. She gives you her full attention. Pause for a moment. Just for a moment. Let the statement sink in.


    Second, provide some context. Briefly—briefly, briefly—give context: “I’ve reviewed your request.” “We’ve gone over your application.” “The hospital called.” This narrows the concern. It focuses the discussion.

    Third, deliver the bad news. Be honest. Be direct. “We can’t approve your request.” “You didn’t make the cut.” “Your sister’s had a bicycle accident.” Again, pause for a moment. Let her process the information.

    Fourth, explain the reasons or details. “Your credit scores are too low.” “There were too many others with more experience.” “She’s in the emergency room, and the doctors are working with her.”  

    Fifth, offer help. “We can suggest several ways to raise your scores.” “You can use this year to broaden your experience.” “Don't worry about work. Go to the hospital. We'll take care of things here.”

Much of this depends on the circumstances and the relationship. The key is to be caring but direct. Sometimes that’s tough to do both.

Thank you, Parry Osborn.


Mark Brooks