COMMUNICATING BAD NEWS
10 KEY POINTS
1 In business, there are 2 ways to deliver bad news: (1) intra-person (E.g. person-to-
person, telephone) or (2) in writing (E.g. letter, memo, email). The strategies presented
for communicating bad news can be equally applied to the intra-person or written
2 There are 4 specific goals in communicating bad news. The primary goals are (1)
to ensure that the receiver accepts and comprehends the bad news; (2) to maintain a
positive image of yourself and the organization you represent, as this reflects directly on
your ethical behavior. The 2 secondary goals are to (3) be clear in your message, as the
clearer the message, the lesser the chances of further correspondence or inquiries on
behalf of the receiver; (4) to protect yourself and the organization by limiting the risks of
triggering legal liabilities.
3 Whether communicating bad news intra person or in writing, special attention must
be made to the choice of language. To avoid legal liabilities, limit the use of the
following language: (1) abusive language in the form of name calling, defamation, libel
or slander is legally actionable when false, harmful to the person’s good name and
published. (2) Careless language such as words that do not communicate an exact
intention, as well as damaging or misinterpreted statements. (3) Inaccurate language such
as communicating extra information, making promises that cannot be upheld, admitting
or accepting responsibility as a result of feeling guilty, ambiguous apologies that can be
held legally liable.
4 Selecting the use of the active voice or the passive voice is critical in the delivery
of the bad news. An active voice focuses on the person to whom the message is directed
to; for instance, I think the Mandarin class you are taking Tuesday afternoons is a hobby;
therefore, I cannot grant you the afternoon off. As for the passive voice, it is the most
appropriate to convey bad news in business, especially when referring to techniques that
enhance sensitivity. Unlike the active voice, it focuses on the action as shown in this
example: since your Mandarin class on Tuesday afternoons is a hobby, no time off is
5 Traditionally used as a method to deliver constructive feedback, it is preferable to
avoid referring to the sandwich method to communicate bad news in business. The
pattern of presenting good news, followed by bad news, and good news in closing tends
to detract the receiver’s attention towards the good news, omitting the bad news.
6 Analyzing the context in which the bad news is to be delivered implies the
application of the direct pattern or the indirect pattern. The Direct Pattern states the
bad news first and is most effective in situations when firmness and directness are
required or when the receiver may disregard the bad news. The Indirect Pattern begins
with a buffer and the presentation of the reasons that lead to the delivery of the bad news,
it is most efficient in communicating bad news in business situations when relationships
want to be preserved.
7 To correctly follow the indirect pattern, one must adequately apply its checklist. (1)
Open with a buffer by presenting the best news, a compliment, appreciation, facts,
understanding or apology. (2) Follow by introducing the reasons to support the negative
message through providing a careful explanation, explaining the company’s policy, using
positive words or presenting appropriate evidence. (3) Make an effort to cushion the bad
news: use the passive voice, imply a refusal, state compromises and propose an
alternative. (4) Conclude in a pleasant manner implying a forward look, information
about the previously proposed alternative, good wishes and goodwill.
8 There are several steps to consider when delivering bad news to customers. (1)
Apologize if you or your organization is responsible. (2) Clearly pinpoint the problem
and accept responsibility. (3) Explain what you are doing to remediate the situation and
how you will ensure that it does not occur at a further time. (4) Promote goodwill (E.g.
gifts, rewards, benefits, bonuses). (5) Imply that you appreciate the customer’s business
and praise their understanding. (6) Confirm that you are eager to reestablish the
relationship and maintain it in the long term.
9 To successfully deliver bad news personally in an organization, one must respect
the following guideline: (1) gather information prior to confronting another employee.
(2) Focus on practicing what you want to say. (3) Precise the origin, current status of the
problem and your plan to resolve it. (4) Bring a witness, to increase credibility. (5)
Choose the appropriate time to deliver the bad news - avoid stressful periods or Friday
afternoons. (6) Remember to give the receiver time to process the bad news.
10 To counter the challenges of communicating bad news in a multicultural
environment, one must (1) understand that the “Western” way to deliver bad news is not
the “Universal” way. (2) Broaden their knowledge to the new cultures of the workplace.
(3) When possible, research foreign business communicating strategies prior to engaging
in communicating the bad news. (4) Evaluate the context in which the bad news is being
delivered. (5) Always refer to the indirect pattern as it lessens the impact of the bad news
and may diminish a cultural misinterpretation.