“No one loves the messenger who brings bad news.”
Sophocles is right but we could try to deliver bad news gently and still be liked, couldn’t we?
When was the last time you had to give bad news to a colleague, a member of your team or a client?
How did you feel? Uncomfortable? Absolutely hated it?
How did they feel? How did they take (react to) the news? Did they take it badly or well?
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At some point in our professional and personal lives, we’ve found ourselves having to give, deliver or break bad news to someone. And unless you’re an insensitive person, you would have found the experience deeply uncomfortable wishing you could have been a million miles away.
Most of us would happily avoid giving bad news to someone, but in business there are times when breaking such news is inevitable.
Take situations like:
- announcing a profits warning to shareholders
- reporting a fall in sales figures
- the closure of a subsidiary or branches (of a company)
- the need to layoff employees
- the need to sack or fire an employee
- rejecting a job applicant
- telling someone they didn’t get the promotion
- telling your team you didn’t secure that lucrative deal
- informing a client their investment portfolio has halved in the last year
These are but a few scenarios. You know what I mean and I’m sure you have plenty more examples.
Looking at these situations, how would you break the news? What would you say?
I know I’d have to think carefully of what to say/write and how to say/write it, because I’d want to make sure that what and how I am saying or writing shows empathy, understanding and above all that I care.
After all, you’re giving bad news to people and people deserve to be treated with kindness.
There are some basic steps that are considered good business practice when it comes to delivering bad news and in this lesson, I want to explore 3 tips of good business practice and give you examples of phrases in English you could use.
Tip #1: Get straight to the point
While it might be tempting to delay the bad news, don’t do it. Tell it to them straight.
Here’s what you could say in writing.
Formal/ Very Formal
I’m sorry to inform you that….
It’s with regret we have to inform you of the closure of our northern branches.
We regret to inform you that our CEO has resigned with immediate effect.
We’re very sorry to inform you that our Chairman has decided to resign.
Due to a problem with our distributors, I’m sorry to inform you there will be a delay in shipping your order to you.
I’m afraid we have not been able to solve the issue in the given time.
I regret to inform you that you were not shortlisted to the next round of interviews.
I’m sorry to say that…
There has been a problem at our production plant and that means a further delay in ….. We’re so sorry.
I’m afraid there’s been a delay…
I’m afraid I have some bad news….
I’m really sorry to tell you that….
If you’re giving bad news in person, here’s what you could say:
Listen, I’m afraid I have some bad news…please take a seat.
I’ve just heard back from the clients. I’m afraid it’s bad news, everyone.
I’m really sorry but the news is not good.
It’s been a tough two weeks and I’m afraid to say that the decision has gone against us.
You’re not going to like what I’ve got to say…
Tip #2: Explain why
Everyone deserves to know why they’re being given bad news. In giving the reasons, be as clear and concise as you can be. And be truthful. People will appreciate it.
As you know, we’ve had a difficult year sales wise which has made us have to rethink our position.
As you will be aware, our industry has suffered in the last two years and this has affected us too.
Due to the fall in sterling, the cost of imported products has risen and this has had a detrimental/negative impact on our turnover.
Despite having a great proposition, in the end it came down to price and we, unfortunately, couldn’t match what the other side were offering.
Unfortunately, there have been a number of delays with our delivery services and this has affected the level of service we expect to offer you.
Tip #3: Offer possible solutions or hope
If you can, an alternative solution would be welcome. Or even giving people reassurance and hope of better days to come.
Of course, if you’re firing someone or making them redundant, offering them reassurances may actually work against you. However, if you’ve dealt with the situation in a caring way, the employees left behind would appreciate it. So, for example, dismissing people in person and not via email would make a huge difference in creating good morale with the remaining workforce.
If you’d be prepared to accept an alternative solution, we could….
We strongly believe that, despite these difficult last few quarters, we’re in an excellent position to end the year in profit.
It’s been a difficult few months with some painful decisions, but we feel certain that the business will come out stronger than before.
Even if we didn’t get the deal, you all did a great job and I am a firm believer that the next deal is right around the corner.
If you accept a pay freeze this year, I’ll secure a place for you on that training course.
What are the best and worst examples of delivering bad news in business you’ve seen or experienced?
Please share them in the comments box. I’d love to hear from you.
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Ciao for now