How to Deliver Bad News in an Email



It’s inevitable at some point that you’ll need to deliver bad news to friends, family, colleagues, managers, or employees. In some cases, email is an effective way to do that. If you need to send a message sharing bad news, here’s the SaneBox Scoop on how to get that right.


Understand the context of the bad news and what you need to share


The first thing you need to do is to understand exactly what the bad news is and your reason for sharing it. You will use a very different approach if you’re admonishing a staff member versus letting your parents know you’ve lost your job. This context is vital to using the right tone and approach in an email or other messaging.


Figure out if email is the best way to share this bad news


In some cases, email won’t be the best medium. Sometimes a good old-fashioned phone call is the best way. For other news, face-to-face or text message might be better. Judge how the person receiving the news is going to feel and how they’ll want to respond. That can guide you in choosing the best way to communicate.


Make sure the tone is appropriate to both the context of what you’re sharing and the recipient of the email


Based on what you’re saying and who you’re saying it to, your tone and approach will vary. If you’re delivering bad news to family and friends you will use a much more informal approach. If you’re sharing information with work colleagues, bosses, or employees, you will use more formal language. Think carefully about the recipient and the type of language that’s going to be best for them.


Depending on your tone, approach, type of bad news, recipient, and context, various different types of email can work. Here are some examples.


Empathize with the recipient


If appropriate, share empathy with the person you’re sending the email to. Use your shared experience and background to understand where they are coming from and how they might react to the bad news.


Provide reassurance to people getting the email


In some cases, you will want to reassure people as they get the bad news. Some messages can make people insecure, upset, angry, or fearful. In those cases, a few words of reassurance, delivered with compassion and grace, can make a big difference.


Be very clear and concise in what you’re emailing about


Sometimes you will want to get right to the point. This is the type of bad news you don’t want to sugar-coat. Instead, tear off the band-aid and discuss the bad news clearly, transparently, and with the minimum of fuss.


If you’ve caused the bad news, be honest


In some cases, the reason for the bad news might be you. Perhaps you’ve missed a deadline or broken a promise. In those cases:


Be completely honest, don’t make excuses, own your mistake.

Communicate early, don’t procrastinate.

Apologize for what led to this in the first place.

Provide just enough background that people know why the situation went bad.

Let people know what you are going to do to fix the situation.

Explain how you will stop the same problem happening again.

Provide further information to help people understand bad news


If needed, link to other resources to help people deal with bad news. For example, if you’re letting people know about organizational changes or shifts in their roles and responsibilities, ensure you link to HR content that can help them.


Consult with experts


If you’re not completely aware of the impact, consequences, or context of the bad news, involve an expert. In a business that might be HR. An expert can help you craft and review the message to ensure you’re getting all the points across in the best way.



You can mix and match these techniques to make delivering bad news via email if not OK, then at least palatable. No-one likes giving or receiving bad news, but the right message, using the right context, explained in the right way can make a bitter pill easier to swallow.