What do we do with bad news?

Companies face the daunting task of communicating bad news to employees, shareholders, the public, and other stakeholders
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By Janni Jarvinen
Crisis Communications Manager

Delivering bad news or making an unpopular decision is an inevitable aspect of everyone’s professional and personal life. This is no different in the dynamic landscape of business. Companies often face the daunting task of communicating bad news to employees, shareholders, the public, and their other stakeholders.

Whether it’s a financial setback, a strategic shift, organisational changes, or an ongoing incident, the way in which companies deliver unwelcome information significantly influences the public perception of their leadership and their brand. Mastering the art of delivering unwelcome news with empathy and transparency is crucial for maintaining trust and fostering a positive environment. Here are some key things to keep in mind when faced with this delicate task.

Timely and Transparent Communication: The first step in managing bad news is to communicate it promptly and transparently. Delaying the release of information can breed uncertainty and undermine trust. Companies should aim to provide as much detail as possible while respecting legal and confidentiality constraints.

Choose the Right Channels: Consider the appropriate channels for delivering bad news. In-person meetings, video conferences, or official written communications may be more suitable, depending on the stakeholder in question, and the severity and nature of the news. Utilise a combination of channels to ensure the message reaches all relevant audiences.

Craft a Clear and Concise Message: Develop a clear and concise message that addresses the core issues at hand. Avoid jargon or overly complex language, such as operational slang or company terminology, as this can lead to confusion. The goal is to convey the information in a way that is easily understood by a diverse audience.

Empathy and Acknowledgment: Recognise the emotional impact of the news on your audience. Express empathy and acknowledgment for the challenges they may face as a result. Demonstrating a genuine understanding of the human side of the situation helps build trust and fosters a sense of community.

Provide Context and Explanation: Offer a detailed explanation of the reasons behind the decision or the factors leading to the bad news. Providing context helps stakeholders comprehend the situation better and can alleviate some of the initial shock or disappointment. Shedding light on the decision-making process fosters a sense of transparency.

Highlight Future Plans and Solutions: While conveying bad news, also share the company’s plans for the future and any strategies in place to overcome such challenges. Demonstrating a commitment to addressing the issues and outlining a path forward helps instil confidence in the company.

Leadership Visibility and Consistency: Ensure that leadership is visible and consistent in their communication. Having key leaders address the bad news directly can enhance the credibility of the message. Consistency in messaging across all levels of the organisation prevents confusion and builds a united front.

Keep Communication Flowing & Listen: Maintain ongoing communication to keep stakeholders informed of any developments or progress. Periodic updates help reinforce the company’s commitment to transparency and keep the lines of communication open. Furthermore, encourage two-way communications with your stakeholders. Foster an environment that encourages open dialogue and feedback and allows stakeholders to express their concerns and ask questions. Listening actively demonstrates that you value their input and are willing to address any uncertainties.


Delivering bad news or making unpopular decisions is undoubtedly challenging, but handling these situations with grace, empathy, and transparency can foster a culture of trust and resilience.

Effectively communicating bad news is a critical skill for companies navigating the complexities of today’s society. By embracing a proactive approach, companies can not only weather the storm of negative developments but also emerge with strengthened relationships and a resilient organisational culture.

In the face of adversity, strategic communication becomes a powerful tool for building trust and sustaining long-term success. By following these tips, you can navigate any bad news effectively, maintaining positive relationships and fostering a sense of collaboration even in challenging times.

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