The Secret to Delivering Bad News in Tough Situations

We’ve all been in tough situations where you have to deliver some bad news. This may be anything from delivering a bad review, firing an employee, letting down a friend, or simply saying “no”.

Often times we are taught that bad news should never come as a surprise, that your communication and feedback should be clear from the start. This allows you to be much more prepared, and you can deliver the bad news along with documented evidence. But what about those times when bad news really is a surprise to both parties. This is where extra strategy is needed.

So what is the biggest secret to delivering bad news? Assertiveness!

Assertiveness is the courage to be ourselves, it’s communicating honestly, and understanding the feelings of others. Well executed, assertive communication can be such a valuable tool in these situations. It still may not be pleasant, but it is important to be courageous, honest, and fair. Assertive communication is all about being able to tell that truth with heartfelt compassion and do it in such a way that the other person has a pathway forward.

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The first step is to avoid calling it “difficult”. If you tell yourself that the conversation will be hard, then you build it up in your mind and it can cause a lot of unnecessary anxiety. Instead, be open to seeing the facts for what they are and allow yourself to be confident in your communication.

Now you may be thinking, what about those pesky emotions? For women, especially, it is often times hard not to display emotions in these types of situations. The most important thing to remember is to be compassionate and not emotional. By removing emotions and not playing the victim, you will be much more likely to preserve the relationship. Put yourself in their shoes, and don’t forget to follow up to understand how they are feeling.

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3 Tips to Use Assertiveness to Effectively Communicate Bad News

1. Do Not Delay

Delivering the news as early as possible is critical. This prevents it from weighing on you, as the deliverer, and give the other person sufficient time to deal with the news and find a path forward. Assertive action can help to prevent the event from being prolonged for an unnecessary amount of time.

2. Be Honest

Honesty with both yourself and the other person is key. Even though it may be tough, make the decision to be assertive and simply say, “We need to have a conversation, and this may not be pleasant, but it is important that we talk.” When you are able to do that, and do it with compassion for the other person, the communication will be much clearer and the overall situation will go over much more smoothly.

3. Provide a Path Forward

Whenever someone receives bad news, they often feel confused and somewhat without purpose. This is why it is important to have a strategy or a solution for them after the bad news has been delivered. This “action” can help prevent the person from going into a state of paralysis or shock, and can give them a way to mange or deal with the situation at hand. Whatever promises you make to assist the person, make sure to follow through on what you’ve said you would do.

Now over to YOU!


  • Are you assertive in your communication? How can you implement these 3 tips?
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