How to Give Bad News in English

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Imagine that you have to tell your…

 

  • best friend you can’t come to her wedding
  • colleagues there will be layoffs in the company
  • boss that your project is over budget by 14% (YIKES!)
  • team that you’re going to miss your deadline
  • customer that you cannot fix their computer hard drive, everything will be lost
  • family that you can’t attend the family reunion this summer
  • friend at work that he didn’t get the promotion

These are all terrible situations!
If you have to give bad news – does it make you feel nervous and stressed?

You and I both know bad news is never welcome. There is no need to say it.
No one likes to hear bad news. And no one likes giving it.

Sadly, it’s still a part of our lives.

The good news (the silver lining) is you CAN give bad news in a caring, professional way. You can do it in a way that is respectful to the other person and minimizes the negative.

With this lesson, you’re going to learn how to prepare what to say so you’re ready to give the bad news and STILL show that you are caring!

 

But First! The Importance of Using the Right Words

Let’s be honest — giving bad news isn’t just terrible, it sucks! You feel awful inside. You’re nervous. Maybe you want to avoid the situation and pretend it isn’t real.

It’s even worse when we have to give bad news to the people we care for.

Using the right words for giving bad news can help the situation be more calm, friendly, and peaceful.

In these two examples below, I’ve provided one professional example and one informal example of giving bad news to someone. And I’ve highlighted the key phrases that help to give the bad news:

Hello, Stephen, I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news. The company has offered the promotion to someone else. I had really hoped to offer you the position but the management team chose another applicant based on years of experience. I know this isn’t what you wanted to hear but I hope that you’ll continue to seek opportunities like this with the company as you clearly have a lot to offer.

Lara – I’m so sorry but it looks like we’ll have to cancel your outdoor wedding plans due to the weather forecast. It’s supposed to rain all day. I know this isn’t what you want but the good news is our wedding chapel is well-known for its beautiful setting. It’s perfect for wedding photos.

Review and practice using the expressions below to help you prepare so you can give bad news in the kindest, most polite and caring way possible.

“Using the right words for giving bad news can help the situation be more calm, friendly, and peaceful.”

Introducing Bad News in English

Depending on whether your situation is formal/professional or informal, use these expressions to help you start the discussion on bad news. This will prepare the person for the bad news and also helps you to immediately get to the point. It’s never a good idea to be indirect with bad news.

Formal / Professional

  • I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news …
  • I’m sorry to have to tell you that …
  • I regret to inform you that …
  • I’m afraid to inform you of …
  • It is my unfortunate duty to tell you that …
  • I’m afraid I/we won’t be able to …

Informal

  • Unfortunately …
  • I’m sorry to tell you that …
  • I’ve got some bad news …
  • I regret that …
  • I need to warn you that I have some bad news …
  • I tried … but …

 

Explaining Why

It’s important that you explain the background or the details of the bad news. People always want to know why. When possible, as you prepare to give your bad news, be sure to include a couple of reasons why the situation is happening.

Formal / Professional

  • Unfortunately, there are some problems with …
  • Due to [talk about the problem] …
  • After consulting with my colleague/boss/the (sales/marketing/hiring/HR) team …
  • If you look at the attached information, you’ll see that …

Informal 

  • Something else has come up.
  • Because of …
  • It’s not possible because …
  • It’s against our policy.

Discussing Solutions to Bad News in English

It isn’t always possible, but if you can try to offer alternative solutions or focus on the positive in the situation. If the news is particularly bad, it is best to avoid trying to focus on the positive because then it might be offensive or hurtful.

Formal // Professional

  • Would you consider an alternative solution such as…?
  • I know it isn’t the answer/result/solution you wanted, but what about…?
  • I have another idea for how we can resolve this situation.
  • If there is a silver lining* here, it’s that…, so perhaps you could…

*In English we have an idiom: Every cloud has a silver lining.
What this means is for every negative or bad situation, there is always something positive that can come from it.

Informal

  • It’s not what you want, but how about…?
  • I have another idea.
  • It’s not the same, but what about…?

 

Offering Sympathy When Responding to Bad News

When giving bad news, it is important to respect and show understanding for the other’s feelings or response. It is likely that the news will be very upsetting, even unexpected, so be sure to offer sympathy to help calm the situation.

Formal // Professional

  • Please accept my apologies for any inconvenience this has caused.
  • Please accept my apologies. I know this isn’t what you wanted to hear.
  • Please accept my apologies. I do wish that the situation were different.
  • I apologize for any inconvenience caused.
  • I can appreciate your feelings on this. I know it isn’t what you hoped for.
  • I can appreciate why you feel that way.

Informal 

  • Sorry again for…
  • I understand why you feel that way.
  • I can see why you might feel that way.
  • I can see why you would think that (but)…
  • I thought it was possible but…
  • I really wish I could help you but…

Now I’d love to hear from you and your experiences in giving bad news in English.

Have you ever had to give really bad news to someone? If so, how did you prepare for it? And what about in English? Have you given bad news in English? How did it go?

I’d love to hear about your experiences and get your feedback. Please feel free to share in the comments section below!

Have a great week!
~ Annemarie

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