Communication: I’ve got some bad news

Communication: I’ve got some bad news

by | Mar 30, 2020 | Basics, Communications

One of the first rules of speech-making is to never start with an apology. I won’t start this blog post with one either, but I probably should – the last thing anyone needs now is yet another attention-grabbing and misleading headline! However there are so many examples of bad – and a few good – communication in relation to the delivery of bad news recently I feel compelled to address the topic.

With a pandemic in full swing, leaders all over the world are finding themselves in the position of giving their communities bad news. Whether it’s the incremental daily updates approach of our own Australian Prime Minister or the blunt German approach from Angela Merkel – “This is serious” – each has done it in their own way. But it’s not just world leaders who are having to deliver hard truths – more than ever before employers are having to have difficult conversations with staff and customers. For many of us, this can be the hardest part of our jobs. However, we can take some notes from recent announcements to improve the way we tell people things they’d prefer not to hear.


It is true of so many things – the sooner the better. Whether it’s letting your workforce know that the business is struggling, or telling an employee that their performance is not acceptable, there is no time like the present. It is usually no surprise to someone when the news is finally given – affording them the courtesy of being upfront with them and lessening the stress makes it a little easier on you both. Even if you are not yet sure of all the details, telling them what you do know is appreciated most of the time. With all the uncertainty in the current environment, there are many workers who know they will be impacted – having as much information as possible from their employer allows them to plan better.


As the age-old saying goes, honesty truly is the best policy. Being open and transparent establishes trust and reduces the chance of confrontation or ill-will. We are seeing it all over the news at the moment; where leaders are being upfront about the extent of the danger, citizens are cooperating and taking restrictions and challenges on board in greater numbers than where leaders are being vague and drip-feeding information. It might not be easy to tell customers or employees (or communities) information that you are upset about yourself, or that you might consider personal – such as disclosing financial or family challenges – but this is the approach that will give the best results. It’s not always best to hold your cards close to your chest.


When people set out to give someone else bad news, they often expect, quite reasonably, that the other person might react badly. This is no different whether you are the Australian Prime Minister advising the nation that its pubs are about to close or a boss having to stand down a worker. It is not uncommon for this to get in the way of delivering the message that needs to be heard. It is well known that our brains do not process information as well when we are upset or under stress so it is especially important to keep the message short and sharp. Explain the facts and the required outcome, with only the necessary detail. This way the important information will sink in. If there are more arrangements or details to be discussed, this can happen at a later time when things are calmer.

While I hope those reading this do not have to deliver or receive bad news any time soon, it is a time to prepare for the unexpected. Keeping the basics in mind is a good way to make challenges easier.

For information on our range of communications packages, contact Kirbi Solutions on 07 3635 7345.

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