How to Deliver Bad News Without Killing the Messenger

If you’ve ever had to share some bad news, you may have started by saying, “Don’t shoot the messenger.” That’s because people have a natural tendency to lash out at the person delivering the bad news, even when it has nothing to do with them. It is very likely that you will have to be the bearer of bad news at some point. Learning how to deliver bad news honestly, openly, and empathetically will help you to preserve working relationships. Here are some best practices to use when delivering a difficult message. 

Prepare and Rehearse Your Delivery

Having to deliver bad news in the workplace can be very stressful. How you lead with the bad news can set the tone for the entire conversation. That’s why it is so important to prepare ahead of time. Take time to write down a few key points that you want to say and rehearse your delivery. You want to be sure you use language that is straightforward and easy to understand.  Pay close attention to your body language and tone. You may even want to do a few breathing exercises beforehand to try and relax. 

Identify Solutions

Before you share the bad news with others, take some time to identify possible solutions. You may not be able to completely make things right, but you might be able to minimize upset. It is important to do this before the conversation because once you deliver the news, the conversation is likely to become emotionally charged. It can be difficult to think clearly under these circumstances. However, if you are already prepared with solutions ahead of time, you can approach the conversation with a sense of professionalism. 

 Be Straightforward and Compassionate

Bad news is negative by nature and there is no getting around that. Therefore, don’t try to sugarcoat it or make it sound better than it is. Rather, accept that it will come with emotional responses and feelings and be prepared to provide moral support. 

Get to the Point

The best way to deliver bad news is to get straight to the point. Don’t lead with background information and every little detail of what went wrong. Instead, cut to the chase and simply share the bad news. Context and background can come later, but your first priority is to get to the point quickly and say what is happening. 

Give People a Chance to React and Ask Questions

It is understandable that someone on the receiving end of bad news will be upset. They will likely have questions about what is happening that they will expect you to answer. You should give them the space to freely express their feelings and speak their mind. Listen, show empathy, and answer their questions directly.