Throughout one’s career, bad things are inevitably going to happen. A database crashed, the expected report does not have glowing information, and there are delays in the project, to name a few. How the bad news is approached and handled will determine the reaction and consequences.

The bad news can come from your or others’ actions or inaction regardless people need to hear what is going on. At the beginning of a career, it makes sense that getting into trouble is not on the list of things to do for career growth. “Don’t shoot the messenger” doesn’t seem to happen, or it doesn’t feel like it happens.

When people hear bad news, the first instinct is to be angry at where they got it from. An email, news report, or the person in front of you giving the news are the easy targets to direct that anger. Even worse is if the news is due to the actions of the individual or group that caused it.

So to avoid conflict, most will avoid saying anything, try to hide it and fix it themselves or let someone else bring it up. What is not understood is any delay in reporting the news is only going to build frustrations with leadership because they missed the opportunity to get ahead of it to mitigate the fallout potentially.

Here are some tips to help break the bad news:

1 – Have a plan B and C

  • When bringing terrible news, it is always good to have some ideas on how to deal with it. This shows leadership that you are not just approaching them with issues; you have thought through potential mitigation plans.
  • They shouldn’t need to be very detailed at first, just a brief synopsis of what could be done. They may also have an idea, and it will start a conversation on how to resolve it.

2 – Be confident

  • No need to be scared about giving the bad news. Yes, they will be upset, but it is the news they are upset about, not you.
  • If it is due to something, you did own up to it and had that Plan B and C ready.

3 – No time like the present

  • Don’t wait. Although it is terrible news, reactions will only worsen if you wait to bring them up.


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