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Category: Brand · 5 min read

5 Ways to Communicate Bad News Well

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on April 25, 2019

author profile photo

on April 25, 2019

Professional-looking man communicating to his co-workers

“I’m sorry, but I’ve got some bad news…”  

When was the last time you had to tell someone bad news? Or maybe you were on the receiving end. Either way, whether you’re giving or getting bad news, it’s a difficult situation. If you tread carefully, you can minimize hurt feelings and help manage the fallout from the message, but it’s not fun. As a leader, delivering bad news is a necessary part of business. Perhaps you need to fire someone, announce a legal issue, admit a mistake, or tell someone something you know they’re not going to like.  

To communicate bad news well, try using these five tips.  


1. Don’t be Silent  

The worst thing you can do is pretend like nothing is wrong and keep quiet. Don’t do this. And don’t delay or postpone the inevitable; share the information as soon as you can after you have it. As a leader, it’s your responsibility to talk about the elephant in the room and to lead the conversation.  

Don’t avoid it. For example, maybe you weren’t as profitable the past year as you predicted, and you have to make some budget cuts. Be up front and honest about the situation, even though it’s hard.  


2. Be Responsible 

Don’t try to spin bad news or sugarcoat it. If you made a mistake, it can be easy to pass the blame on to someone else and pretend like you didn’t have anything to do with the situation, right? But that’s not being a responsible and respectable leader. If someone else made a mistake and you need to address it, don’t pull your punches. Be clear about what was wrong and what changes need to happen.  

Good leaders tell the truth. Good leaders take responsibility. This may mean apologizing and admitting you didn’t make the right decision, or acknowledging that the situation is negatively affecting someone even if they did nothing wrong. Going back to our profitability example, this is you taking the brunt of the responsibility for the looming budget cuts. Even though it may be difficult, doing this shows honesty and transparency. In other words, even if the news isn’t your fault, don’t throw anyone under the bus. 

Good leaders tell the truth. Good leaders take responsibility.

3. Be Receptive 

After you drop a bad news bombshell, it can be tempting to end the conversation there. But it’s better to stop and wait for the reactions. Let the other person(s) respond, and be receptive to what they have to say. 

At the same time, be prepared to answer questions and address any frustrations. You just dropped a bombshell, remember? You may have just let them know that budget cuts are coming. That takes time to process. View this as a time to learn from what happened by hearing others’ perspectives and concerns, and be open to their constructive criticism and suggestions.  


4. Have a Plan 

What are you going to do to make the situation better, if anything? Is there anything you can do to help? Is there constructive feedback you can offer to help someone improve for the future? If so, tell them your plan. 

If you don’t have a plan, consider creating one. Bad news is received better if you have a potential solution to the problem. For instance, think about the last time the electricity went out at your house. The electricity provider doesn’t have to deliver the bad news, because you already know what has happened, but they do anyway. They send you an email saying what happened, and that they have people already out to fix the problem. They have a solution already in place. That’s the kind of plan you should have for your bad news, too.  

Bad news is received better if you have a potential solution to the problem.

5. Follow Through 

Once you have a plan, do the plan. Follow through and do what you said you would do. People will notice if you don’t, just like you would notice if your power doesn’t get fixed, after being promised it was being fixed. Good leaders stick to their word and make sure that the solution happens and adequately solves the problem.  

Sometimes, you have to be the bearer of bad news. It’s not easy or fun, but it’s necessary. As a leader, it’s up to you to deliver the news in a way that shows you are sorry, empathetic, and honest, but also in control of what’s happening. So, the next time you have to have a hard conversation, use these tips to manage the situation as best as you can.


For Financial Professional use only, not for use with the general public. #19-0260-041620 

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Written By

Mark Williams

President and CEO

Mark Williams is the President/CEO of Brokers International. Over his more than 25 years of financial services experience, Mark has been both a producing independent agent in the field and a home office leader consulting to agencies and field marketing organizations. Currently, Mark is focused on the future of the insurance industry, from the disruptions of InsurTech and robo-advisors to the changing demographics and needs of customers. He also is an avid mentor, helping financial professionals navigate the industry.

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