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Delivering Bad News to Clients

5 Oct, 2015 McKell Naegle

Entering a client meeting with nothing but bad news can be about as frightening as reading a Stephen King novel. No wait—that’s not a fair comparison. Let me start over….

Entering a client meeting with nothing but bad news is about a million times more frightening than anything else. Yeah, that’s about right. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of bearing the bad news, you know what I’m talking about. But as terrifying as it may be, sharing the bad news can in fact save your relationship with the client. Don’t believe me? Well you will.

Every child on earth is familiar with this ancient rule of niceness: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” This rule can sometimes weasel its way into the business minds of men and women, who for whatever reason think ignoring something makes it disappear. A child may close his eyes and think he’s well hidden from the monster hiding under his bed, but if a client catches you with your eyes closed you’ll be eaten alive.

Bad news is better than no news at all. Most of your clients just want an update. Sometimes all they want to know is if their idea even has any merit, and with your bad news they can know with a surety that they need to change direction. This knowledge can save them thousands of dollars in future investments. That being said, delivering bad news is an art, and should be carried out with a lot of thought.

Robert Bies, professor of management at Georgetown University, has written what he calls the Ten Commandments for Delivering Bad News. They are:


  1. Never Surprise
  2. Never Delay
  3. Never Hide the Facts
  4. Always Put it in Writing
  5. Always Know Why There’s Bad News
  6. Always Look for the Silver Lining
  7. Always Bring Solutions
  8. Always Remember Your Multiple Audiences
  9. Always Follow Up and Follow Through
  10. Always Treat People with Respect and Dignity


Following these commandments does not always guarantee a happy and grateful client, but saving your reputation as an honest and dependable company is always worth your time on the hotseat.

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