The Art of Giving Bad News


No one likes to receive bad news. But being the bearer of bad news is not much fun either. Seems like the past few weeks I have found myself delivering the kind of messages I wish someone else would do. I want to deliver happiness, fat checks, and great looking food. But there are times we all need to  “suck it up,” and give people news that will disappoint, hurt and even devastate. So how do you do that well? I’m not sure I’m doing it well, but as I thought about the circumstances I’ve been lately, I tried to put myself in the other person’s shoes. If someone is going to give me bad news, how would I like for it be done? Here are some thoughts:

The art of giving bad news

Be kind. Difficult conversations are painful by nature. So there’s no need to make them any more hurtful. Tell me the bad news but don’t make me feel any worse than I already feel. I’ll always remember this conversation and how you approached it.

Be honest. Speaking the truth in love is a biblical mandate. Don’t skirt the issue and don’t sugar coat it. Please tell me what the real problem is. In order to avoid the same fall out down the road, I need to be aware of the real reason for the conflict or outcome, not just a more palatable version.

Be silent. Once you say your peace, let me process, respond or just cry. Some people feel the need to fill every second with words. People in shock need time to regain their bearings. Being silent creates a healthy tension and gives me time to respond.

Be available. Some news you never see coming. They blindside you like a Mac truck blowing through a stop sign. A gracious person will always leave the door open for a follow up conversation or clarification if necessary.

Have I missed anything?

  • Great post Maurilio! Thanks for the tips.

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  • STRONG POST! I learned this the hard way, by not having the tough conversation very well. The one thing I learned while walking through this season in my life…these are real people, with real lives, families, hurts, pain and baggage. Seems rather simplistic and doesn't change what needs to be said…just re-positioned my heart to a place of grace and love.

    • Great thoughts, Chris. I like the idea of "re-positioning" our hearts.

  • Good stuff, Maurilio; very useful. I think timing is important too, but I think I also use that as an excuse to avoid or delay delivering the bad news.

    • I'm guilty of that Geoff. We want to postpone the tough conversation because it's going to be an unpleasant ordeal and in the process we make it worst.

    • I'm guilty of prolonging or trying to avoid the conversation.

  • Good post. Thanks.

  • Mark Bates

    I've been the receiver of of this many times and from my experience the ones I appreciated the most were the ones delivered just as you laid out! Excellent points. I believe this ability is encased in what makes a great leader also. Never enjoyable, but sadly necessary at times. Always measure your heart beforehand.

    • Thank you for your candid comment. I really appreciate it.

  • Jason Haas

    I believe I could retweet everything you post. Another valuable, helpful post!

  • These tips are great for someone with the unfortunate duty of delivering bad news.
    I think #3 might be the biggest challenge for most people since not many are comfortable with awkward silences.

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