The 4 C’S of Breaking Bad News

bad news.001

Breaking bad news is part of leadership. No one likes it, but it is part of the natural order of things. Bad things happen and it is up to leadership to communicate the news when it does. Telling bad news isn’t easy, that’s why leaders get the David Beckham salary! Because it is bad news, it means that we must use the occasion to demonstrate our leadership skills to their maximum. Skills such as:

Presentation Skills, by using all available media to convey the message effectively (Web, email, notice boards, Intranet, Team Briefing)

Emotional Intelligence, by anticipating people’s reaction to the news.

Interpersonal Skills, by giving people the message in such a way that they value the way in which you have dealt with this sensitive issue.

 Here are the 4 C’s of giving bad news:


Say what you mean and mean what you say. You should be honest and aligned inwardly to your message. When we are being truthful, then we are aligned inwardly to our message and our visible behaviour, our body language, will be in line too. 

Being truthful and honest does not mean that we shouldn’t be sensitive and empathetic to our audience. The reverse is true! Whatever you do, be truthful.


Develop your speech so that every word is crystal clear for meaning. Leave nothing to doubt. Remember that your audience may well not hear every word because they are in shock. Clarity is power.


Use the KISS method (Keep it Simple, Stupid).Don’t waffle or fluff. Keep to the point and allow plenty of time for questions.Be aware that your receiver of bad news will go through a cycle of emotions and you should prepare yourself for an onslaught of aggressive questions. 

Being empathetic doesn’t mean apologising, although if that is what is required because of something you or the organisation has done, then say sorry and mean it.

Create a Better Future

Point towards the horizon and paint a vision of values and achievement. Tell people who you are, what you do and why it matters. Doing this won’t heal the wounds of bad news, however will start the process. Even with bad news, you can find silver lining in the cloud for everyone.

Have your best week ever

 Mervyn Murray

About Mervyn Murray

International Leadership and Organisation Development Professional. Using a coaching style to support you every step of the way. Inspirational event speaker and father of 2.
This entry was posted in Change Management, Communication, emotional Intelligence, Leadership, Performance Management. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The 4 C’S of Breaking Bad News

  1. Sriram says:

    This is going to help me a lot in the coming week. I have to deliver bad news to 5 people and yet get them to work for me for the whole week.

    • Hi
      This is the part of Leadership nobody wants. You may find that your team already has a fairly good idea they bad news is coming as most people are attuned to the rhythm of your business. If you need any support, please feel free to ask. I’ll happily give you specific ideas if you need it.
      Good luck.

  2. Newton says:

    Merv, the 4 Cs, are just fantastic. we used those technics last week to break bad news to a staff overdue for retirement and it worked well. thanks and Happy New Year

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