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7 Excellent Tips For Giving Bad News In A Good Way

What would you like to hear first? The good news or the bad news? It’s a classic cliché expression frequently used in the English conversation that briefly distracts from impending bad news by offering an option. Now you are stumped deciding whether you might rather enjoy the blow of bad news following a temporary moment of positivity or vice versa.

In whichever way bad news is brought to the table, particularly in corporate language, the delivery can have a greater impact than the news itself. In company meetings a poor presentation of negative information can be demoralizing for the team, the choice of wording when telling a customer about delays can sever ties and future sales, and a blasé attitude over a business partner’s concerns can have equally negative repercussions.

But is there a good way to deliver bad news? Sometimes poor vocalization in English conversation of bad news can come from a lack of skill, language barriers, or nervousness. Whatever the cause behind what could be a negative experience for both the deliverer and the receiver of information, it is important to learn a few basic skills to make the conversation go smoothly for all involved. The following are seven English speaking tips to keep in mind whenever being the bearer of bad news.

1) Be clear


The quickest way to compound an already bad situation in an English workplace is to muddle the delivery, beat around the bush, or prolong the inevitable. Even with the delivery of unfortunate news, an honest to-the-point approach can serve to build trust during a trying time. As well-intentioned as it may seem to try to ease the landing by beating around the bush, the rip-the-Band-Aid approach up front allows you to focus on the more important part of the conversation…the way forward. The clearer understanding you have of the problem, the more definite and immediate solution can be explored.

Related Post: 8 Useful Ways to Make Your Point With Precision & Clarity

2) Offer options


Ok… It’s done… news delivered… It’s easy to think that the job is done, and your responsibility is fulfilled. However, the next few moments are pivotal. These moments will determine if the recipient descends into a pit of despair and uncertainty, confused by an inability to rationalize why this happened, maybe even start feeling betrayed or a sense of diminished self-worth, or alternatively is comforted by knowledge of what happens next, and what power they have to affect a more desirable outcome. Providing realistic, plausible next-steps can serve as the proverbial “phoenix rising from the ashes”.

3) Be positive


Context matters! We exist in a world of texting and direct messaging where the reader is left to assume how messages were intended to sound, sometimes to catastrophic results. A honeyed tongue and gentle smile can make a thunderstorm feel like cool summer rain on a hot day. The rhetorical “glass half full” idiom (for more useful English Idioms visit our previous article Business English: Idioms and Phrases). Resist the temptation of stating the obvious that bad news is bad. The message itself will convey that. Posture, demeanor, compassion, and nonverbal cues can be useful aids to calming the storm.

4) Be honest and state facts


As stated in the “be clear” section it’s vital to steer clear from innuendo, and equally as important is being an honest broker. Facts matter and data is currency. State what you know to be true, admit what you cannot substantiate. People have greater reason to listen to a message if they believe it is being delivered honestly, from people known to be habitual truth tellers. We all have come across people that simply through past interactions, we develop a certain level of trust in them and would believe what they say simply because they were the ones saying it. A good way to think about it would be in a reciprocal nature. How would you like someone to tell you something you didn’t want to hear? Who would you like telling you that unpleasant information? Why would you believe that person? Be the person you would listen to.

Related Post: 14 Simple Rules That Will Make You A Better Communicator

5) Be Objective


It’s not about you! Everyone has biases. It’s unavoidable that those biases influence, intentionally or unintentionally, how we behave and interpret information. Sometimes its easier to speak from our perspective and in doing so skew the message by muddying it up with our own subjective perspective. Sometimes that tree in the forest simply falls. Whether someone was there to hear the sound it made when it did so doesn’t change the fact that what was once standing, now isn’t. Objectively business English doesn’t mean insensitive, but rather, impartial. Be objective.

6) Take accountability


It is difficult at times when the unfortunate happens to admit our role in causing said event. More difficult still is admitting it to the aggrieved party. Ego, pride, or simple self-preservation are strong disincentives to owning up to a wrong or even an unintended mistake. Its human nature to behave this way. If the intent is to provide a level of peace of mind, humility is mandatory. Even in cases where the mistake was not directly made by you, when you are representing your business or company, pointing the finger elsewhere can give a poor impression and come off tasteless. Keep this in mind.

7) Follow-up


When it’s over, it’s still not over. Everyone processes information differently and on different timescales. Problems take time to resolve, emotions take time to work through, people take time to be made whole. At the moment it might seem difficult to see how things can be mended, but the old adage “time heals all wounds” is profound for this very reason. it’s endearing to circle back around to see how things turned out, especially when it’s not mandatory to do so. Checking in periodically provides both closure to the aggrieved, and feedback to assess if the method of delivery of the bad news, as well as the way it was managed, had the intended effect. When you’re not communicating in your native language, it might seem more intimidating, but we give useful advice on this post: How to succeed in the international workplace when English is not your first language.

As with anything else in life, there are no silver bullets, or magic spells or incantations to do anything perfectly every time. All the skills listed above are to be practiced and implemented on a case by case basis, and with varying focus. However, the basic tenant of delivering bad news is essentially to be human. To end as we began, allow me to answer my first question. What would I like to hear first, the good news or the bad news? Give me the bad news in such a way that I will appreciate that it came from you and not someone else.

Please get in touch with your Talaera team for courses in English geared toward your personal English speaking goals or for information about using our learn English app.

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About the author: Latasha Thomas, one of our newest English teachers is a United States Air Force veteran and graduated from the University of Maryland. She has been teaching English since 2013 and in her free time enjoys traveling and experiencing new cultures.

Talaera1 (2)Talaera is an online platform that provides one-on-one English language training, anytime, anywhere, with 100% personalized lessons, HD video quality, and qualified teachers that will help you achieve your learning goals.

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  1. Hi, Latasha Thomas
    Thank you for giving excellent tips to use while delivering bad news.
    Is it possible to maintain the same relationship with the person after the delivery of bad news?

  2. Hi Latasha,
    Thanks for this wonderful tips.
    I’ve learned lot of fascinating tactics from ur blog.
    “Is the time factor important for communicating bad news? “

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