Bad news is like bind weed

In most jobs we are required to deliver bad news – whether it be redundancy, a ticking off in performance, or yet another managing expectations discussion around pay and promotion.

Sharing bad news is something most of us dread doing and we tend to either do it badly, in a rush or put it off to the very last minute. We all remember Hugh Grant in Four Weddings and a Funeral – jilting ‘duck face’ at the altar. Putting things off only makes things worse.

When delivering bad news, we need to consider three main components: the facts, the emotions caused as a result and, finally, how the other person sees themselves, which is called identity.

As a general rule, the more significant the news, the more we need to tend to the emotional aspects and protect the other person’s ‘identity’. Simply telling someone that their coffee is cold only requires the facts (unless, of course, they’re really thirsty) while explaining to someone that you want a divorce (and keep their house) will need a mix of facts, emotions and identity.

Here are some examples of how bad news can impact upon a person’s identity:

The facts
Impact on identity How to handle it better
You’ve lost the contract I’m terrible at selling You’ve been extremely helpful and patient, it’s just that the type of service we need has changed.’


We’ve decided not to keep

you on

I’m terrible The role is no longer needed but I can think of a number of people who would leap at the chance to have someone with your skills.


To share bad news effectively there are four stages:

1 Preparation

2 Delivery

3 Discussion

4 Conclusion

Preparation is pretty obvious particularly about rehearsing, and choosing the right time and venue. On delivery make sure you get the message across that the news is driven by a whole set of circumstances, not just about the person as a whole. For instance, “As you know, the recession has been tougher than any of us could have imagined. This has had a direct impact on our business resulting in 15% drop in sales. We have to make cuts and concessions everywhere…..”

After the bad news has been delivered there should be time for discussions and venting of emotions. At this point you should aim to listen.

Finally once the discussion has gone on for as along as the other person needs or until you think they are ready, it is time to agree next steps. We should finish off by confirming what has been said, what has been agreed and what happens next.

Bad news is like bind weed – just when you think you’ve got it all out of the allotment – it springs up in the unlikeliest of place.  The equivalent of rooting out the weed forever is to continue to share the facts whilst addressing the emotions and identity.