Delivering Bad News

No one wants to hear bad news, but there is even more aversion to hearing evasive and dissembling explanations of the bad news.Stuff happens, and it may fall on your shoulders to let employees or customers know. You need to prepare to deliver the bad news simply, honestly and in a timely way.

Writing for Ragan.com, Christina Miranda says your audience isn't going to like hearing about a price increase, a canceled staff bonus, service cuts or layoffs. "That's why it's called bad news," Miranda says.

A marketing PR professional, Miranda offers five tips for delivering bad news, which we've distilled to three:

1. Say it simply.  Bumbling, pussyfooting or stalling won't work. Prepare to spit out your bad news as simply and straightforwardly as possible. Avoid jargon, legalese and fluff. Don't try to sugar-coat the bad news with "good news." Miranda notes, this will raise your audience's B.S. radar, heighten negative emotions and "trivialize serious news by not treating it with the respect it deserves."

2. Be honest.  Attempts at spin will be transparent to your already bummed out audience. They will respect — and expect — the truth, the whole truth. Your job is to give them the truth, with appropriate detail and context. Allow questions and provide direct answers. Your emotions also need to be honest. An employee who dies on the job or a layoff requires a different emotional response than announcing a price hike or service cuts.

3. Be timely.  The phrase "there is never a good time for bad news" is false. The time to deliver bad news is when it happens. Communication may not always be instantaneous, but it needs to be urgent. The grapevine spreads news, good or bad, quickly, so you can't procrastinate if you want to let your audience in on the bad news before it hears from other sources. Timely communication allows you to tell your side of the story, which is critical to retaining goodwill and loyalty.

Responsibility for delivering bad news is not a relay race where a superior can hand the baton off to a subordinate. It is often the top dog's job to convey bad news, especially when the news is really bad and involves layoffs, pay reductions and outsourcing.

Miranda offers one other piece of good advice. It may be the top dog's responsibility to deliver the bad news, but he or she must keep in mind the bad news isn't about them. "The recipient does not want to hear about how you were up all night," Miranda writes. "Asking for their empathy at a time like this will likely result in their wanting to smack you. Let them have their moment of sadness without trying to steal some of their sympathy."