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Delivering Bad News

How to Deliver Bad News

There really is no good way to deliver a negative message. But communicating bad news with respect and empathy for the recipients may soften the blow – at least to some extent. Listed below are tips for delivering bad news.


  1. Begin your message on a positive note and establish goodwill.
  2. Communicate the bad news and give reasons for it (or vice versa).
  3. End on a positive note and re-institute goodwill.  

Listed below is a memo that demonstrates these suggestions.




To: All Employees

From: Marcus Jackson

Date: January 14, 2013

Subject: Cost Reductions


We are pleased to announce that annual revenue in 2012 exceeded revenue in 2011 by 15 percent. We thank all of you for helping the company reach this goal. Without your expertise and hard work this would not have been possible.


Unstable economic conditions have led to increases in the cost of raw materials and other production expenses, and intense competition is threatening the company’s market share. Since we must divert resources to managing these concerns, we are forced to cut expenses in other areas. Therefore, we have instituted a company-wide freeze on raises and bonuses in 2013. We deeply regret this decision because your hard work is the reason our company has remained viable during these tough economic times.  


We have developed a plan to address the issues that led to this decision, and our goal is to re-institute raises in 2014. We ask you to bear with us and continue to provide the level of expertise and hard work that led to a 15 percent increase in annual revenue in 2012.


We want you to know that we value each of you and appreciate your commitment to helping the company achieve its goals.



The recipients of a negative message are not going to be happy about it and may even be angry. However, providing the reason for the bad news shows that you respect them. Furthermore, establishing goodwill (a) demonstrates your concern for how the news impacts them and (b) communicates your desire to maintain good relations.




Sparks, Suzanne D. 1999. The manager’s guide to business writing. New York, New York:  McGraw Hill.


© 2014 Katherine Williams. All rights reserved.

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