Be the Bearer of Bad News

I’ve worked for a number of people at high levels of companies, and I have had a good number of C-level clients. None of them has ever liked to be surprised by bad news or to discover an unpleasant truth on their own. Deserving trust means being candid, and telling the truth quickly.

Lies of Omission

Not many people enjoy lying. But when the truth that must be told is unpleasant, complicated, and expensive, it’s easy to want to wait around for the right time to broach the subject. When conversations occur and the necessary and unpleasant news has been left out, then you have lied by omission; there is a truth that should have been told but wasn’t.

Trust depends on you being honesty, even when it’s difficult. You cannot avoid telling your sales manager, your CEO, or your client (at any level) bad news as soon as you know it.

Maybe the dream client you were pursuing and that you were counting on winning has decided to choose your competitor, and maybe it was a sales mistake that you made that preceded that decision. You need to disclose the mistake and the fact that prospective client may be lost as soon as you know. Your sales manager may be forecasting the win, and decisions to take the necessary actions to serve the client may already be being made.

Maybe you’ve won your dream client and everything has gone wrong from Jump St. Your commitments haven’t been met. Mistakes have been made. Shipments have been missed. The mistakes are going to cost your client money, and it’s your company’s fault. The sooner your client knows that you are aware of the mistakes and that you are taking action, the better. You can’t hide from problems, and they don’t age well.

You are also going to have to tell your leadership team that they are going to have to spend the money to mitigate the damages caused by your company’s mistake, and they aren’t going to be happy to hear the news.

Maybe there is a price increase coming down the pike. You need to tell your client, but you fear losing their business. They may be budgeting and making decisions based on your current pricing. Your decision to postpone telling them may cause them to extend pricing to their clients that they will no longer be able to honor after your price increase (or at least honor profitably).

Unpleasant tasks all, but necessary nonetheless. Omitting information that needs to be shared is still lying.

Telling Difficult Truth

Telling the truth when it is difficult is how you earn trust. If you can always be counted on to deliver news when it is bad, people will know that you will always shoot straight with them, regardless of the content of the message you have to deliver.

But telling the truth as soon as it is known comes with other benefits. First, there may be time to take some action. You may be able to mitigate the damages. If mistakes in the sales process put your opportunity at risk, get them on the table while there is still time to take action. If you are failing your client, let them know the instant there is a problem. By doing so, they know you have their interests at heart, that you are aware, and that you are doing something to make it better. The longer you go without saying something, the more your trust and credibility is destroyed (perhaps irreparably).

Second, it is the mark of a professional to tell difficult truths. Professional salespeople own and manage complicated outcomes. They tell the truth, and because they do so, they are trusted to be part of the team. People know that producing results is difficult, there are always problems, and that conversations are going to have to be had about mistakes and problems. It’s what real professionals do. Even when the truth is greeted in a way that is less than professional.

When bad news is discovered after it should have been disclosed, not only is it bad news, but knowing and not say something is also news that you can’t be trusted to be professional, honest, and trustworthy. It means you can’t be trusted with real responsibility.

Be the bearer of bad news. Tell it straight and be direct. Tell it as quickly as it is known. It’s what trust and professionalism require of you.


Why is it difficult to tell be the bearer of bad news?

Why does it feel like the right decision to wait until the appropriate time to spring bad news?

What are the risks of being the bearer of bad news?

What are the risks of not sharing an unpleasant truth that must be told?

What bad news do we in sales often have to deliver?

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Filed under: Sales

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