How to Give Bad News, That Isn’t That Bad

bad news emergencyby Jody Bruner

I recently received an email with this alarming subject line from my health club:


It jumped out from my inbox and I opened it immediately. I felt myself tighten as I read the first few words:

To all Healthclub Members,

We regret to inform you that…

OMG, did someone die? Is the club closing? Moving? Are the rates going up? No, apparently someone is leaving.

…effective as of April 29, 2021, Jennifer Jones is no longer with the Healthclub team at our Viewpoint location. Jennifer has been a valued leader with a strong legacy at Healthclub Clubs, for over fifteen years.

She was appreciated by both members and fellow employees over her many years of service, and we are grateful for her outstanding contributions.

We sincerely wish Jennifer all the best in the future.

We can tell from how this is written that the writer is really really sorry to see Jennifer go. But she should express her sadness to Jennifer directly, not to the hundreds who read her announcement. A better strategy would have been to thank Jennifer for all her contributions, congratulate her on the new opportunities ahead, and assure club members that finding a replacement is a priority and that their service will be unaffected in the transition.

Remember when you’re sharing news you regret or feel bad about to

Resist coloring your message with your own feeling.
You might feel sad Jennifer’s leaving, but hey, not everyone will share your feelings. Keep them to yourself.

Keep it in proportion.
The upper case subject line and the opening “We regret to inform you” is alarming. It sets the reader up to think the message will be catastrophic. It’s not! People move on, it’s normal.

Spin it positively.
Nearly every bad situation in business life has something positive about it. Sure, sometimes it’s hard to find that positive angle, but if you look for it you will find it.

Use a warm, conversational tone.
This announcement is an opportunity to speak directly to your members. Use it to build your relationship by being conversational and sincere. Avoid cliche phrases like “We regret to inform you that as of…” or “We sincerely wish Jennifer all the best in the future.”

Use concrete language.
Be concrete and avoid using boring phrases  like “valued leader,” “strong legacy” and “outstanding contributions.” It would have been better to give concrete examples of her leadership, her legacy and her contributions. Listing her biggest contributions would have been an excellent send-off for Jennifer. Remind us of the great kids’ program she initiated, the innovative spa services she brought in, and the high-quality fitness classes she gave.

Have you received a not-so-bad bad news email? Share in the comments!

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