How to Deliver Bad News

When delivering bad news, you risk people’s emotional response to that news being attached to their liking for you.

Especially in professional environments, the delivery of bad news should be planned seriously and delivered carefully. The existence of bad news signifies the end to a battle that has been lost. There would be no bad news if you were to figure out a solution to the problem at hand.

It should be said that here’s no real way to eliminate the pain of bad news one someone who holds enough stake in that information.

This article hopes to remind you of things to keep in mind while delivering bad news.

Have a Clear Understanding of the Causal Factors

Communicating bad news without knowing what exactly happened is frustrating to the listener. People’s first reaction to hearing bad news will be to ask questions along the lines of, “How’d this happen?” Make sure that you’re well studied on the happenings surrounding the news at hand. Ensure that you know which causing factors led to the issues you’re presenting, and clearly identify each step along the way that went wrong.

An educated messenger of bad news commands respect. Attempt to have the answers to all follow up questions people may have surrounding the news that you present. Be the single source of the news you deliver, if you’ve decided to deliver bad news (more on outsourcing bad news below). Own your role as the bad news bearer, and don’t shy away from the responsibility which that entails you adopting. For one, your act of attempting to communicating bad news places on you a responsibility to educate the ones who listen.

Communicate Your Efforts and Ideas in Mitigating

The delivery of bad news implies that you are bringing forth things that people don’t want to hear without providing a solution on how to fix those things. An unskilled courier of bad news is no longer useful to the person who they are interacting with after they communicate the news – they might even be a hindrance. Your delivery of bad news signifies your possible defeat against the factors which produced that bad news.

For instance:

Let’s picture you to be a babysitter. Imagine having to break the news that a child you were watching burned their fingers on the stove to the parents who hired you. You’d have failed in the goal to keep the child you were looking over happy and safe. Your services would no longer prove to be useful to the parents, and you’d likely not have much to tell them after they understand the situation at hand. What would be the best way to delivering this news to the parents while maintaining your reputation intact?

Try to be useful when delivering bad news. In your delivery, ensure that you look for, and present, a solution to the news that you deliver. Continuing on the situation above, the delivery of your bad news would be aided if you took every measure to seek medical attention for the child who burned their hand. Your delivery would go over more smoothly if you’ve educated yourself on how best to treat burns, and took every possible step to ease the severity of the pain the child felt.

Provide ideas on how to mitigate bad news and think about the effect this news has on your recipient. For instance, as a manager, you will deliver a lot of bad news to your team. Maintaining levels of team morale are critical to when delivering bad news to your team. Ensure you explain thoroughly what this news means going forward and what steps of action will be taken to overcome these findings. Be in tune with how painful the news you’re delivering is, and be on the constant lookout for things you can do to bring some comfort to the recipients of the news.

In short, prove yourself more useful than being a mere messenger. As you deliver your bad news, your role shifts. You should become an aide, rather than remain a simple messenger.

Consider Outsourcing the Delivery of Bad News

Outsourcing the delivery of bad news can also aid in your approach of being a fixer rather than a finder. People who find out about issues are useful but tend to not be the most respected, as they may not provide any ideas for the mitigation or avoidance of those issues. Remember, delivering bad news can only aide you if you have the full and encompassing solution to that news.

Making somebody else deliver bad news enables you to take on the role of the leader who will fix the issues that are included in the new findings, but one who isn’t yet sure that a solution yet exists. It allows you to be creative with your task of fixing issues without having the pressure of being a messenger of bad news on your shoulders. Once a person delivers the bad news, they are lumped into the mental section where this bad news exists. This section of our minds is negative and anxious. It, for some reason, is difficult to let go of the association between the messenger and the news itself. Though the messenger could also come ready with proper strategies for mitigation, their association with the bad news itself will entice people to be hesitant in believing in the validity of their efforts to fix things. The messenger is associated with the happening of misfortunes, even if they had no part in the happenings which took place.

Avoid being the messenger of bad news as much as you can. Rather, jump on the opportunity to attempt in fixing issues which are delivered as a result of bad news that someone else publicizes. There are sometimes instances where finding and publicizing issues is welcomed (corporate work space). Consider allowing someone else to be labelled as having discovered the news, and focus your efforts in looking for solutions to the news at hand. The shine one receives discovering a piece of bad news, is not nearly as bright as the person who fixes the issues causing this news to be presented.

Be Fully Sympathetic

Lastly, your reputation as a person who gets things done effectively will be hurt by the presentation of bad news. As best you can, try to make the issue you’re coming forth with seem fixable, and communicate your ability to play a large role in fixing these issues. If you do not feel confident in your role of mitigating the issues at hand, attempt to outsource the delivery of this news by telling only a select few first.

There will be instances in which you’re tasked with telling someone devastating news. It can involve un-fixable things such as a loved one’s passing. There’s not much that can be done in an effort to fix such issues. There will be pain, and your association with that news will last a lifetime. Your last hope for maintaining your audience’s ability to respect you for your delivery, is to operate with sympathy. Your delivery of bad news places a burden of responsibility on you. When the news is delivered, be fully sympathetic to the sorrows your news brings. People get put-off when the messenger of bad news does not seem sympathetic to the seriousness of the news they are delivering.

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Disclaimer of Opinion: This article is presented only as opinion. It does not make any scientific, factual, or legal claims. Please critically analyze all claims made and independently decide on its validity.