How to Deliver Bad News and Live to Tell About It

Author: John Monczunski

No one likes to deliver bad news. It’s especially difficult to deliver it to one’s boss. After all, they shoot messengers, don’t they? But now and then most of us have to tell someone something we’d rather not. In an organization it’s especially critical that those in charge have accurate, even if uncomfortable, information to solve a problem. So how do you drop the bomb without ruffling feathers or inflicting permanent injury on yourself? Renee Tynan, an assistant professor of management in Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business, has studied the problem and offers the following tips:

• Make sure your motives are pure. Your reason for telling the unpleasant news must be for the good of the person and the organization. Vindictiveness is not in order and will only come back to haunt you. • Prepare yourself before you deliver the information. A serious discussion like this is no time to wing it, so don’t improvise. • Try to discern what is most important to the person receiving the information and what they might find threatening. Use that information to minimize the person’s defensiveness. • Be concise with relevant facts. An argument buttressed by facts is less likely to be perceived as a personal attack. • Assume the outcome of the discussion will be positive. Expectations often determine another person’s reaction. Follow the tips and who knows? You might receive a promotion instead of the pink slip you’ve been fearing ever since that unfortunate discussion with the boss.