Five Steps to Communicating Bad News Well

Much of our working life centres around the idea of maintaining a positive attitude in the face of bad news. But there is flip-side to our working lives that often gets ignored: sometimes we have to communicate bad news to others. Mind Tools ( recently published a fantastic article outlining five steps for delivering bad news from a position of honesty and empathy.

Step 1: Prepare emotionally. Focus on what you want to say and empathize with your counterpart. This helps you stay calm and professional while understanding what it will be like to be in the conversation from the other person’s point of view. It also allows you to imagine different ways in which the conversation might go and prepare for difficult questions.

Step 2: Identify possible solutions. It is important to do this before you end up in a highly charged atmosphere that may make it difficult to think on your feet. It will also help you demonstrate a commitment to moving forward.

Step 3: Choose an appropriate time and place. Don’t procrastinate, because rumours can turn a bad situation worse. Privacy is also better for one-on-one conversations – and make sure it is a conversation, not an email exchange. That way you can use body language and tone of voice to help you deliver the news.

Step 4: Be genuine. Stay as authentic, compassionate and respectful as possible while remaining clear. If you are in any way responsible for the bad news, openly communicate this. At the very least you will be remaining honest, and it may even help build trust. Also, use active listening to validate the other person’s emotions and let them know you understand how they are feeling and want to address their concerns.

Step 5: Focus on the positive if possible. Of course, stay realistic…if the news truly is awful, trying to find positives may actually make things worse.

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