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How to Announce Bad News

It's inevitable that sometimes you need to make an announcement or publish a press release that contains bad news. There are several ways to approach this. If you take the time to prepare a good statement you can minimise the damage. We will look at each of the methods, ending with the preferred option.

(1) The "Spin" Method

Widely associated with politicians and less-than-honest business people, the spin method means putting a "positive spin" on the story. Present facts as though they are good news even if they aren't. Rather than presenting negative statistics, turn them around and make them positive.

For example, one of these statements sounds a lot worse than the other:

  1. "The study found an alarming 10% contamination rate in the area."
  2. "The study found that 90% of the area is free from contamination."

(2) The "Comparison" Method

In this method the bad news is down-played by comparing it to something even worse. For example:

"Although the area has some contamination, the situation is not as bad as it could have been, and is much better than similar areas in other catchments."

(3) The "Sandwich" Method

This is generally the preferred option if you want to appear honest and accurate. The idea is to "sandwich" the bad news between two items of good news. For example:

"The recent environmental impact review has resulted in an exciting new policy of resource management which is due to be implemented next month. At this stage the area has a 10% contamination rate. The goal is to reduce that figure to 5% within two years and less than 1% within eight years."

In this way you are being completely up-front about the situation without making it depressing. The initial impression is good news, followed by the bad news, then ending on a positive outlook for the future.

Tip: Never begin with bad news! This makes a very nasty first impression that is difficult to recover from. The first sentence sets the tone for whatever follows, so start on a positive note.