4 Keys To Deliver A Tough Message Successfully


July 23, 2012

The ability to deliver bad news and tough messages is a skill that many people do not naturally possess.  For some, it comes easier than others.  For people who find it more challenging, there are ways to prepare yourself to have a more successful outcome for all parties involved.

The need to communicate negative information comes up in almost every job, at every level.  Situations arise in both professional and personal situations.  When you think about the times you have faced telling someone something negative, were you able to do so in such a way that the other person felt you treated them with respect and understanding?  Or did the other person feel awkward and like you made the situation worse?

There 4 steps to delivering messages in such a way that you will maximize the chance that the conversation will go more smoothly.


  1. Know the facts.  The more research you do up front to prepare yourself for the conversation, the less likely the other person will say something that throws you for a loop.
  2. Write a script and practice.  This is the step that most people do not take, but it is often the most helpful.  You will not actually read the script when the other person is in front of you.  It is a preparation tool for you to get your thoughts down on paper in an organized way.  Think how you would like hearing the message if YOU were the recipient.  What information would you want shared?
  3. Think about the logistics.  Where will you sit, where will the other person be?  Especially when dealing with a potentially volatile person, it is important to think about where you are seated in relation to the door.  If delivering a particularly bad message, you want to be positioned in such a way that you can leave the room quickly.  Also, depending on the message, think about the location of the office or conference room you will be having the discussion.  Is it near other people?  Can anyone else hear the conversation?  Will you need security nearby?
  4. Be concise.  Go over your script and cut out any unnecessary explanation and discussion.  When you actually deliver a negative message, the other person will need time to process what you have told them.  Don’t beat around the bush getting to your point. State why you’re talking to them in a sentence or two then tell them what the outcome is going to be.
Now you’re ready to have the conversation.  By preparing in advance, you increase your chance of having a successful outcome.  What tactics do you use to prepare?  How would this play out differently in a personal situation?



One Comment

  • Writing down the script is an essential step. I think it’s a good idea to anticipate how individuals will react to the news and try to tailor my approach accordingly. It’s never easy delivering a tough message, but a little empathy goes a long way.

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A former HR executive and HCM product leader with over 20 years of experience.


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