How to Deliver, Receive and Prevent Bad News

Nobody likes bad news on projects. It is discouraging, and not friendly to the bottom line in a business environment.

Here are some tips on delivering and receiving bad news and doing something about preventing bad news in the first place.

Delivering Bad News

  1. Once bad news is discovered, do not wait for a convenient time to present it. Do your homework quickly and tell the people immediately up the chain of command who will be affected. Bad news does not age well; left alone it usually gets worse. Bad news is a “Surprise”. Management is any organization does NOT like “Surprises”.
  2. Select your delivery venue carefully. NEVER present the bad news in a forum that will embarrass your boss, your customer or another individual or entity with which you are connected. Offer to bring the message privately to prevent an accidental public disclosure that may prove to be
  3. Present facts that are irrefutable. Double check your facts and why you drew the conclusions you did. When delivering bad news, facts will overcome denial, rebuttals and emotion. Use data condensed into actionable
  4. DO NOT WAIT until you have done extensive research. You will be wasting time. A few carefully chosen metrics are enough to prove your case.
  5. Develop fact-based recommendations to resolve the bad news. If the recommendations do not require opinions, they will probably be well-received. Include an estimate of time and cost for the
  6. Expect to be challenged. Bad news can spotlight poor performance by an individual or a group. When confronted, individuals or groups can become very defensive/belligerent. Stay calm and stick to

 Receiving Bad News

  1. Demonstrate to your organization that they can raise bad news safely. Now what? “People won’t come forward if they think that whatever they tell you about will just languish,” says Marshall Colt, a psychologist and an executive coach based in Denver, Colorado USA. You have to do something with it!
  2. Don’t shoot the messenger. “People need to feel that they can challenge you, tell you something you might not like to hear, and that you won’t snap at them,” says Michael Roberto, a professor at Harvard Business “Shoot the messenger one time, and it sends a horrendous message to everyone else.”
  3. Verify by asking non-threatening questions to the person delivering the bad news.
  4. When bad news arrives, assume there is more. Bad news is probably part of a pattern or may be even systemic, not just one data point. And it is likely worse than originally disclosed. Make sure you identify the root cause of the bad news. If the root cause is a behavior, you need to fix the behavior

Preventing Bad News

  1. Practice Management by Walking Around (MBWA). If you want to know what’s going on, try spending time outside your office, hefting boxes at the loading dock or taking coffee in the break room. And once you’re there, try asking some tough questions. You want the truth? Show that you are
  2. Develop trustworthy contacts in the simple fact of organizational life is that people who don’t report to you directly are less likely to be intimidated about telling you what’s really going on.
  3. Develop meaningful metrics for your organization. At status meetings, ask staff to deliver a “Post PowerPoint” narrative that encourages spontaneous information exchanges. “PowerPoint is the most filtered, packaged, and sanitized way to present data that you could imagine,” Harvard’s Roberto says. “To go behind the massaged numbers, ask to see the raw data, or demand an entirely different set of”
  4. Always seek new metrics. And ask for actionable information in reports, not data in spreadsheets.
  5. If you need to, get expert diagnostic help. There are reputable consultants who are excellent diagnosticians. They have seen it all and can provide non-biased recommendations in short order.