breaking bad news to good clients

“It is during the worst times of your life that you will get to see the true colors of the people who say they care for you.”   -Ritu Ghatourey


It’s never fun to be the one to deliver bad news, especially when you have to deliver it to a client. But, delivering bad news can be essential to addressing the challenges a client is facing and identifying real areas of opportunity and improvement. Here are some tips I’ve developed and refined in my 20+ years of working with market research clients that have helped when I had to be the bearer of bad news:

  • First, don’t be too quick to respond. While the need to communicate is likely urgent, it may help to take a deep breath and formulate your plan for communicating the news.

  • Consider breaking the news over the phone first, following up with details in an email. This will give you a chance to quickly respond to immediate questions and gauge their reaction.

  • Don’t head straight into the bad news; give them a second to know it’s coming by using an opener like, “I need to share some information with you that may be hard to hear.”

  • Be clear on what is fact and what is your opinion. It’s good to include both, but make sure the two are clearly delineated.

  • Provide enough context and detail that your client can respond to questions as they share it with others.

  • Take responsibility for anything you or your team did to contribute to the situation and apologize sincerely. Offer a plan for how you will make good on your errors and what you will do in the future to prevent them.

  • Offer a solution for what they should do moving forward. Show empathy. Think about what you would do if you were them.

  • Avoid bringing attention to any impact it has on you. This is about them, and you being there to support them as they work to address the issue.

  • View the situation as an opportunity to offer help and become an even stronger partner and advisor. How you handle the situation will speak volumes about your character and professionalism.

  • Check in on them after a reasonable time to see how they’re doing and if they need help.

  • And finally, be genuine and honest about the news. This is not the time to candy coat it. It’s hard and uncomfortable, but your client will appreciate your candor and it’ll help build a trusting relationship in the long run.