How to Give Bad News

Frank Newberryin Training & Education

Trainer and Conference Speaker Frank Newberry looks at how to give bad news to people in the workplace. Giving bad news can be hard on everyone. It needs to be handled well if everyone's morale and performance levels are to be sustained.

This article is primarily aimed at people in a supervisory role, or those who aspire to be a supervisor. This is not a requirement though - you need only be interested in the topic. Maybe you want to help out if you can. I helped out when a supervisor called me in once and asked me (as a favour) to make half of the work team redundant!

"Why me?" I asked. The answer came: "Because you know them better than me". The supervisor would never see them again, I had been involved in making people redundant in the past, and I was a trained counsellor. It was probably (as they say) for the best.

Ten Tips on Preparing to Give Bad News

1. If more than one person is affected by the bad news, you may wish to see them as a group initially. At this meeting, you could explain that you have some important news that affects everyone, but you would like to speak to them individually first.

2. Separate meetings will help if individuals have private issues that they wish to discuss with you. You can all get together later on, but once you have started seeing individuals, I suggest you carry on until you have seen everybody. Even if you run late, avoid telling anyone to come back in the morning. By morning, they could well have heard a number of different versions of your message - and some of those versions may not be accurate.

3. Make appropriate arrangements if any of the individuals has special needs, especially if their communication skills are not very good.

4. People have the right to have a friend or witness present, and you may wish to do the same - for your own protection. Individuals can react in an extreme way to bad news, and some have even been known to make false accusations about the news giver.

5. If possible, take the individual and any witnesses to a private area - away from their usual workplace. Ensure there is privacy. Turn off your mobile. A quiet room with comfortable seats would be best.

6. If you dress smartly, it will show respect for the person and for the situation.

7. Think through your specific aims for the meetings, as well as the possible goals and aspirations of the people you are meeting

8. Make sure you know all the relevant information about each person's situation, particularly the known consequences and future options.

9. You may experience strong emotions of your own when you have to give bad news. It might help to talk to a friend or a colleague about it first - to help you to be objective.

10. Rehearse or role play the 'bad news' discussion with a friend or colleague - before you start the meetings. Ask the friend how it was for them, discuss what was hard for them to take and what was easier for them.

Ten Tips for Giving Bad News

1. Check at the outset what the individual or group knows already. You could ask a question like: 'What is your understanding of the situation you are in?'

2. Give fair warning: "I am afraid I have some bad news", then pause for a moment.

3. Be polite and respectful. Speak slowly, deliberately and clearly. Provide information in small chunks. Choose words and phrases you know people will comprehend. Check understanding frequently (yours and theirs).

4. Present the bad news in a succinct and direct way. Be prepared to repeat information and be ready to give additional information in response to people's known fears or questions. In situations like these, you should expect to be asked to 'Go over it again'.

5. Sit quietly. Allow the news to sink in. Wait for people to respond. Do not interrupt them.

6. Listen carefully and acknowledge people's emotions. You can do this by reflecting back your understanding of both the facts they give and the emotion in their responses.

7. Indicate how normal and understandable any emotional responses are in the circumstances: e.g. feeling numb (shock), anger, sadness, and fear.

8. Give people opportunities to ask questions and make comments (even though they are their first reactions). Again, do not interrupt them - even to correct them. Wait for your turn.

9. Present information at the person's pace; do not overwhelm them with detail. If the situation is complex, then provide an initial overview. Assess their understanding of the complex issues. Answer all their questions and, if it would help, provide them with the next level of detail.

10. Explain what you will do next and what the options are for them now.

If you have concerns and questions about what is a very big topic, please feel free to contact me via my website Just click on the Contact tab.

I wish you good luck with giving bad news at work. It is better to do it than to avoid it. In the next issue we will look at how to take bad news.

© 2020 Frank Newberry


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