3 Thoughts on Delivering Bad News Well

Because we live in a fallen and imperfect world, a world subjected to futility, leaders will face difficult and trying seasons. Budgets won’t be met. Teams will struggle. Strategic and tactical decisions will prove not to be the best. Plans won’t be executed as well as they should. Contexts will change. Some of the difficulties are out of our control; some are results from or reflections of our leadership. Godly and great leaders are far from immune to rough seasons in their leadership. In fact, difficult and tumultuous times are certain.

In the midst of difficult times, a leader’s voice and leadership are necessary. He or she cannot be silent. Leaders who communicate bad news well build credibility with the people they lead and those they report to. Here are three thoughts on delivering bad news well.

1) Now, not later

If you wait till later, those you lead or who lead you will wonder why you haven’t surfaced the issue or they will hear it from someone else. And the news they hear may not be the actual news but a version that has been altered as it passes through a plethora of perspectives. Of course, you need to be careful what gets considered as “bad news.” In a broken world, there are always things to fix and problems to solve. I am referring to the bad news that unquestionably and adversely impacts the totality of the ministry/organization/team.

2) Facts first, context and commentary second

If you start with the context and commentary, those you lead or your leaders won’t hear the context and commentary. Do you remember the last time someone shared bad news with you? If he/she shared a ton of backstory before delivering the punch line, you don’t remember the context and commentary, even if it was important. You don’t remember it because you didn’t hear it. Instead, you were thinking ahead, trying to find in the recesses of your mind what the end result would be. It would have been far better for the person to share the news and then provide the context and commentary surrounding the news.

3) Solution, not just problem

If you only come with the problem, you aren’t being a leader—you are being a messenger. And in a challenging time, leaders are critical. If the solution is not easy, needs to be discovered and vetted, and cannot be communicated in concert with the problem, then communicate the steps being followed to reach a solution.

Bad news will always exist. Wise leaders deliver it well.