Let’s face it – there are just some conversations that people don’t want to have, period. But in the workplace, it’s important to maintain a sense of transparency and trust, meaning we often need to bite the bullet and have some tough discussions.

This can include delivering bad campaign results to your team, communicating a massive budget, or even changing business directions and needing to let people go.

One topic many people struggle to talk about openly is how to break the bad news to management. And I get it – it’s not exactly a “fun” subject; it can be intimidating to have to deliver this kind of information, but it’s also necessary. So, how can you go about it confidently and comfortably?

If you prefer to watch a video instead, feel free to scroll down and check out the video.

It all starts with preparing the proper presentation deck.

I was asked by a young marketing manager who had to share news about some paid social media campaigns that didn’t go well. She was especially concerned about putting together the presentation.

The first thing I told her was to take a breath – we have all encountered situations where we’ve needed to share campaign failures or high-dollar and good-intention initiatives that went south with our management. So if you find yourself in this situation, I’ll just reiterate that it’s okay – you’re not alone.

Watch me explain how to make and deliver a killer C-suite presentation here.

As we prepare to present, we find ourselves wondering how to communicate information effectively without losing credibility or our jobs. Often, this leads us to try and choose between two tactics – should we hide it, or should we spin it?

In my expertise, however, the answer is – neither! It’s important to present information accurately, and not to shove things under the rug. But you can tailor your approach to help the medicine go down.

Deliver Bad Business News

Here are three approaches as to how you can go about breaking bad news to a team:

  1. Tell it like it is.
  2. Soften the blow.
  3. Offer a mix of good and bad news.

1. Tell it like it is

This means no sugar coating. In your presentation, you should explain the following:

  • What you did.
  • Why you did it. (This part is essential. It explains your logic surrounding the benefits of the initiatives.)
  • What the outcomes are, aka not great.
  • The root causes of the outcomes. (Again, be very specific about this. It shows that you know what went wrong.)
  • What you are going to do about it, and how you plan to move forward.

2. Soften the blow.

This approach requires you to position the actual results in comparison to something else. Everything is relative. In your presentation, you should explain the following:

  • What you did.
  • Why you did it.
  • What the results were. (Although the outcomes didn’t meet the expectations, you can ideally use 3rd party or historical data to show it’s not that bad.)

Softening the blow is all about finding information and advocates to show the outcomes are not as dire as they may seem. Everything is relative.

3. Offer a mix of good and bad news

This is what I call 3 x 3, meaning you should share 3 highlights and 3 lowlights. Not everything is terrible when you’re working on any campaigns or initiatives! There are usually bits of good news and bad news to pull from. Can you identify 3 good news examples and 3 bad news examples? I guarantee you can do it!

Again, be very transparent. You can argue that this is another version of softening the blow, but I just see it as telling it like it is.

I can always find highlights and lowlights in all the major projects and campaigns I’ve done, and so can you. For example, we ran a FB campaign that was a total disaster, but we also learned the FB platform so well that we now know how to optimize results for future campaigns. That’s a highlight!

Another example – our new platform adoption rate was low. It was so low that we got sales management’s attention, and the sales team committed to retaking the required training in the next quarter. Ok, that’s another highlight!

Are the wheels turning in your head yet? I bet you’re already thinking of some great highlights of your own!

Peppering in good news makes all the difference in making bad news easier to digest.

Deliver Bad Business News

Now, let’s talk about the flow of the presentation

  • Start with the key objectives and key questions that the deck will address—set expectations upfront so everyone knows what to expect. Scope your presentation, too.
  • Share 3 highlights first.
  • Then, move on to talk about 3 lowlights and the potential causes for missteps and failures.
  • Allow the team and management to ask questions and have a discussion. (When you’re prepping the deck, you’ll need to anticipate the list of questions that your management will ask. This is crucial!)
  • Communicate next steps. In this portion of the deck, you lead the team to look ahead.
  • Cover the following: What are you planning to do next? How will you apply what you’ve learned? What else do you need from management to move forward in a positive direction?

That’s how I’d share bad news with management, but I’d love to hear from you if you have other recommended methods!

Best of luck to anyone in this position – remember – it happens to all of us, so you are not alone and stay positive!

And of course, if you’d like to ask a question or schedule a 1:1 with me, please don’t hesitate to reach out.


What can Pam Didner do for you?

Being in the corporate world for 20+ years and having held various positions from accounting and supply chain management, and marketing to sales enablement, she knows how corporations work. She can make you and your team a rock star by identifying areas to shine and do better. She does that through private coaching, keynote speaking, workshop training, and hands-on consulting. Contact her or find her on LinkedIn and Twitter. A quick note: Check out her new 90-Day Revenue Reboot, if you are struggling with marketing.