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Marketing Viewpoint by Ruth Winett

Ten Tips for Delivering Bad News Tactfully

The CEO gathered his team together and announced in a shaky voice, "I have some exciting news. Our landlord has raised our rent by 25%, and so we are moving to a new, more affordable building in the suburbs." As he left, he added, "More details will follow." Soon, clusters of shocked employees began speculating. No one got anything done that day.

Following are some tips for delivering unpleasant news so that your audience will hear you and react favorably:

Determine who needs to know what, when, and why. Weigh whether you should write a memo, meet with a group, or meet with people individually.

Collect the facts, and select background information that is relevant for your audience. The CEO did not say if his employees' commute would increase by five miles or by 25 miles.

Write out your message, and set it aside for a few hours or preferably a day before delivering it. Review and revise your message.

Deliver bad news directly, but sensitively, and then allow your audience to react. The CEO in the above example clearly did not anticipate how his audience would react. He also did not give them an opportunity to ask questions.

Use constructive language to create as positive a mood as possible. Be sincere, but sympathetic. Avoid platitudes, such as "I understand how you feel" or "We will do whatever we can to help you." Don't minimize the impact of the bad news or hide the truth.

Provide specific examples of what you will do to help. The CEO could have said, "We are providing free shuttle bus service to the new location."

Use "I statements," not "you statements." Saying "I was unable to follow the installation directions in the new users' manual," is more effective than "The manual you wrote is useless." Focus on the problem, not on assigning blame.

Remain calm, but empathetic. The CEO seemed anxious about the move, and he transferred his anxiety to his employees.

Whenever possible, start and end on a positive note. The CEO could have said, "The new location has a state-of-the-art lab that will allow us to shorten the time-to-market for new products."

Deliver the news on time and in person. Do not let your audience first read the news in the press or hear it from others. The rumor mill will make the news seem even worse.

Put yourself in your audience's shoes when you have unpleasant news to share. Listen to what your audience has to say, and react sympathetically, but truthfully. People in different departments and with different responsibilities may need different versions or different presentations.


Lynn Gaertner-Johnston, Better Writing at Work: Preserve Your Relationships, Even in Sticky Situations, September 2013 Issue.

Ehow contributor, How to Deliver Bad News.

Shawn McClain, How to Write a Bad News Memo.

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© October, 2013

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