Effective Solutions Through Partnership

Why Sharing Bad News is a Good Idea

Best Practices, Communications, Organizational Change Management (OCM)

Bad News

By Stephen Alfano

Nobody likes to share bad news. However, sharing bad news is a necessary part of a successful communications strategy. If bad news is positioned and packaged correctly, it provides your audience with a credibility proof point. Better still, it represents an opportunity for organizations to build or reinforce a reputation for transparency. This boosts the effectiveness of business negotiations and marketing campaigns.

Communications professionals know bad news exists in every situation. This is why it’s impossible to present information that everyone will welcome. For example, a new business contract should be good news for any organization. Of course, that assumes the organization is ready for the change in workload or priorities. If you were to poll the team that will be challenged to meet the new demands or deliverables under the new contract, you’d find many would categorize the change as disruptive or even view it as bad news.

Not surprisingly, fear of the fallout from disruption is why many organizations avoid sharing bad news in the first place. However, not sharing bad news will inevitably result in dire consequences. So, when is sharing bad news a good idea?

Here are a few common scenarios when sharing bad news is a good idea:

  • Before the company rumor mill kicks into high gear resulting in damage to an organization’s esprit de corps or employment rolls
  • Before the local news media or industry bloggers start to spin their version of the story, thereby ruining an organization’s reputation or bottom line
  • After a leak or security breach to forestall or mitigate a stock price from plummeting
  • After a major business faux pas (or failure) to prevent the activity from being blown out of proportion

Once you know you have to share bad news, there are best practice guidelines you should follow to ensure your message aligns with the best possible outcome.

  • Stay in control of your emotions—be professional at all times
  • Be clear, concise, and consistent
  • Present an understandable and acceptable storyline
  • Acknowledge the audience’s intelligence and knowledge of the situation
  • Strive for credibility and transparency
  • Take care not to admit guilt or culpability (unless advised to do so by a legal team)
  • Outline the next steps toward resolution
  • Prepare for negative (and positive) response to your message
  • Create a post-message feedback channel you can control
  • Communicate again (and again) until the desired outcome is reached

For more information on sharing bad news, check out the following insight:

How Great Leaders Deliver Bad News – Thought-provoking piece on how successful leaders deal with sharing the downside. (Forbes)

How to Convey Bad News – Invaluable and unvarnished insight from several bright marketing students on “how to” spin negative news. (LinkedIn – SlideShare)

Delivering Bad News: Communicating Well Under Pressure – A thoughtful article on the best approaches to delivering difficult messages. (Mind Tools Ltd.)

 About the Author: Stephen Alfano is an Organizational Development Consultant and Communications Expert. He has over 20 years experience in leading and managing internal and external marketing initiatives for both private and government sector clients. His résumé includes providing both new business and business process improvement services to Apple, American Express, AT&T, California Department of Transportation, Chevron, Entergy, Levi Strauss & Co., Louisiana Office of Tourism, Mattel, Microsoft, Novell, SONY, Sutter Health, and Wells Fargo. Stephen currently works as an Executive Consultant with KAI Partners, Inc., providing change management and communications expertise and support services to California State Departments.

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