How to deliver bad news
From: Translation Bureau
On this page
Have you ever been on the receiving end of bad news? How was it delivered? Gently? Or suddenly, maybe even brutally, with no preparation?
I remember a time when my teenage daughter woke up with a blinding headache and a raging fever. I rushed her to the hospital, where the intake nurse assured me that it was a 24-hour virus.
Then the doctor arrived. He said to me abruptly, “We think your daughter might have meningitis. We’ll have to do a spinal tap.” Shocked, I made a nervous noise that sounded like a laugh. Deciding I was taking things too lightly, he added, “You know, meningitis can be fatal.” After that, they had to put me on a stretcher!
Unfortunately, that doctor didn’t know that there’s an art to delivering bad news. It’s important to prepare your listener or reader for the bad news by leading up to it carefully.
Do you have bad news to deliver? To avoid upsetting your clients more than necessary (or even driving them away), try this simple 4-part plan.
1. Use a neutral opening
Never start off with the bad news. Instead, begin with a neutral statement, one that isn’t negative but isn’t too positive, either. Don’t thank your reader for contacting you; you don’t want to sound so friendly that the person thinks good news is coming!
The best approach is to state a fact (other than the bad news):
We have received your email telling us that you did not get the December issue of our magazine.
2. Give an explanation
Don’t state the bad news just yet! Next, explain why you can’t do what the client wants. The idea is to lead up logically to the bad news. After reading your explanation, your reader should be expecting bad news:
Our records show that we learned of your address change on November 30, after we had mailed out the December issue. Since that issue was especially popular, it sold out completely, and we have no stock left.
3. State the bad news
Now that you’ve prepared your reader, you can deliver the bad news. Begin with a word or a phrase like “As a result” or “For that reason,” to show how the bad news is a logical outcome of the explanation:
For that reason, we are not able to replace your December issue.
4. End with a goodwill close
Do your best to end on a positive note and leave your reader with a good impression, in spite of the bad news. You can do this by ending with a close that is friendly and helpful.
Even though you couldn’t do what your reader wanted, see if you can offer something else in exchange:
However, to make up for your disappointment, we will be happy to extend your subscription an extra two months. We hope you will enjoy your extra issues.
If you follow this simple 4-part plan, you’ll be able to deliver bad news and still keep your client’s business!
What approach have you used in the past to deliver bad news? Did it work, or did it backfire? Do you think this method will help you? Let us know in the comments below!
The opinions expressed in posts and comments published on the Our Languages blog are solely those of the authors and commenters and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Language Portal of Canada.
Add a comment
Join in the conversation and share your comments!
Please consult the Government of Canada’s Commenting Policy before adding your comment. The Language Portal of Canada reviews comments before they’re posted. We reserve the right to edit, refuse or remove any question or comment that violates the Government of Canada’s Commenting Policy.
By submitting a comment, you permanently waive your moral rights, which means that you give the Government of Canada permission to use, reproduce, edit and share your comment royalty-free, in whole or in part, in any manner it chooses. You also confirm that nothing in your comment infringes third party rights (for example, the use of a text from a third party without his or her permission).
Comments are displayed in the language they were submitted.