Three Ways to Make Bad News Worse

Recently, I was reminded of the statement: “90% of the time, conflict is escalated because of how the message is delivered, not by the message itself.”

There are a number of reasons bad news messaging is delivered poorly so often.

1. We are uncomfortable doing it so try to get it done with as quickly as possible.

Sometimes we put off sharing the bad news.  Other times, we rip the band-aid off to get it out of the way as quickly as possible, and then shut the conversation down as soon as the difficult deed is done.

When delivering bad news to an internal or external customer, allow the person hearing it a chance to respond and to ask questions.   Some of the initial responses may not be pleasant.  Take a deep breath and recognize the emotion, frustration, anger or disappointment, behind the words.

2. We don’t understand what the big deal is.

In the grand scheme of things, sometimes the bad news we are delivering seems pretty trivial.  And perhaps, in the grand scheme of things, it is pretty trivial, but to the person in front of us, it’s not.

We cannot see into the lives of our customers or our co-workers. Not knowing their stories as well as we know our own, means we don’t understand why they are so frustrated, angry or upset.  Just because we don’t understand the why doesn’t mean we can brush off their response with a shrug and “get over it” attitude.

3. We focus on explanation or solution, instead of empathy.

We may know why something happened and we may know exactly what we can do to fix it (or at least have an alternate plan in place), so we rush to fix without offering an apology or acknowledging the impact our bad news had.  Very often the customer simply doesn’t care why it happened.  Why’s sound like excuses.  Listen, apologize, empathize before jumping to fix mode.


Delivering bad news to a customer, a co-worker or an employee is never fun.  The bad news can be as seemingly simple as “We don’t have that available in your size” to “I have no rooms available” to “There is no longer a job here for you.” Whatever the bad news is, honor and respect the other person’s right to their emotion, acknowledge and recognize their pain or disappointment and then focus on finding a solution together.


(Note:  This is an edited repost of a 2013 blog.  I recently had to deliver some bad news and was reminded of the importance of getting past my own discomfort so I could focus on the other person.  It’s not easy, but the end result is better.)

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