delivering bad news

No one likes being the messenger.


It starts when you receive the news and must think about what to do with it.


Keep it to yourself? Sure. But you know how that story will end.

Bad news (or any news for that matter) is like water – it will find a place to leak and seek the lowest level – often down to those who will be affected by the news the most.


Sugar-coat it or make things seem not as bad as they really are? That’s like putting a fresh coat of paint on rotting wood.


Let’s be honest – telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth is the only way. The consequences of doing anything else will be dire.

So the next time you find yourself in the position where you need to deliver bad news to your employees, consider the 4-step process below. It will help to preserve and protect your personal integrity as a leader as well as your culture:

  1. If you have the luxury, give yourself time to – mentally and emotionally – digest the news and its potential implications. Being self-aware plays a critical role in this step. If you know you’re naturally pessimistic, you know your mind will race toward a very dark and dismal outcome, where the world as you know it will end and all will be lost. Instead of being an active participant in your mind’s creation, be an observer of your thoughts and re-approach the situation with a clear head. Conversely, if you’re naturally optimistic, the danger is that you may not see or understand the magnitude of the situation. This is precisely why it’s best to…
  2. Confide in someone you respect and trust. Two heads really are better than one. You’ll need someone who is not as emotionally tied to the problem as you are offering alternative perspectives while helping you think through possible solutions. For all you know, there is a simple solution to the problem.
  3. When it’s time to deliver the news, resist prefacing your delivery with the phrase, I have some bad news. These are the words of a pessimist and someone who has been knocked off balance – the opposite traits of a strong leader. It is much better to deliver the bad news with one single statement (much like ripping off the proverbial band-aid), communicate its potential impact, and explain what is being done to remedy the situation. Tell everyone you will keep them posted with developments. You’ll need to come from a position of optimism, confidence and strength, because it really is a fact that success is 90% optimism.
  4. Be as patient as a saint with a potentially long Q&A period. Depending on the severity of the news, your people may have many questions about how it impacts them and their future. Be brutally honest about worst-case scenarios and explain in great detail what you’re doing to prevent such a scenario. Remember: in the minds of your people, you’re the one making the “big bucks” and they depend on you to fix problems. It’s true.

Okay, enough talking about bad news. Let’s move on to a positive note.

Your people know that delivering bad news takes a heckuva lot of guts. It exposes your vulnerabilities. It reminds them that you are human and all humans make mistakes. And although they may be angry and disappointed by what they see and hear, they will appreciate and respect your honesty and transparency.

It reminds me of the phrase: the way a person solves a problem is much more significant than the problem itself. Make lemons out of lemonade. Show your people what you’re made of and what kind of leader you are. Make the bonds between you and your people stronger.

Could you really ask for more?