Delivering Bad News Gracefully

Here's how to bring bad news--even if you have one of those bosses who doesn't want to hear it.

Stever Robbins
4-minute read
Episode #329

We all hate to be the bearer of bad news. Yeah, yeah, they say "don't kill the messenger," but just because they say it, doesn't mean we want to deliver bad news. And yet, one of the most important skills to have is precisely that--the ability to be the bearer of bad news.

Bad news is, unfortunately, more common that good news. If you're working in a large business, whatever you'll do, most probably involves coordinating people inside the company, along with people, events, and organizations outside the company. We're talking thousands of elements that all must sync up to get the job done.

A product launch, for example, has design and printing deadlines, press releases, interviews to be given, articles to be written, presentations at trade shows, product development, product manufacture, customer outreach, industry outreach, trade show presence...and Oreo ice cream cake for the launch party.

The chances are very small of any one person or department, screwing up; maybe 1%. But if there are 500 internal deadlines, handoffs, people, and processes involved---not to mention Oreo ice cream cakes---then you can expect 5 things (1% of 500) to go wrong. And when they go wrong, they're almost certainly going to cause problems--because let's face it, how often does someone end up ahead of schedule, using less money, and producing higher quality, by accident?

And when things start to unravel, you may be the one who has to say something.e

Use Awesome Voice Tone

Start with your voice tone. When reporting bad news, your voice tone matters, a lot. The emotion in your voice will tell the person hearing the bad news how to respond.

Consider it a predator/prey relationship. If you speak with hesitation, tentatively, and apologetically, you just made yourself the "prey." Add in a touch of panic and, and the sky is now falling. In prey voice: "Excuse me, Boss? I had a bit of a run-in with a customer when I was staffing the support line. I think they'll be calling you directly."

If you speak with confidence, calmly, then you're sending the message that you're an equal, reporting on facts. If your boss is a hysterical psychopath, they may still blow up, but you'll know it's their problem, not yours.  So let's try that again, in confident voice: "Excuse me, boss? I had a bit of a run-in with a customer when I was staffing the support line. They'll be calling you directly."


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.