Advice on Breaking Bad News to Clients

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One of the toughest parts of anyone’s job is being the bearer of bad news. We don’t live in a perfect world and not every business transaction turns out the way we expect it to. In my business, there are about 300 ways a transaction can go wrong and about 50 of them we either have no control over or have no visibility of. This is particularly true in complex transactions where there are many dynamics involved in reaching the finish line.

Unfortunately, somewhere along the path to the finish line, you may encounter and obstacle a delay or even a deal killer. So, the billion dollar question is: how do you most effectively and professionally break this news to the client while still maintaining the highest degree of professionalism while preserving your reputation? The answer is to effectively manage your client’s expectations from the very beginning. You can do this by giving them a few company mantras they can always count on, no matter what happens.

In my company, it is our policy to tell the client from the very beginning, “Mr. Client, we like your project and would only accept it if we thought we had a very high probability of funding your project. I can’t promise you that it will happen. But, what I can promise you is this: we will always tell you the truth, the good truth or the bad truth….just don’t shoot the messenger!” We then pause, and can almost hear a sigh of relief. In the past they’ve likely had an experience where they were in the dark for a long period of time, only to find out their project was denied.

You see, this is what everyone wants. They just want the truth in real time, and they want you to have the courage to deliver it. We further explain that if there is a problem, we want to get them involved immediately, because they may have some insight into solving the problem. This seals the bond in the relationship between you and your client. Another thing to tell them up front is that if you have no news to share, you won’t contact them. And, not to misconstrue this as negligence, it’s just the most effective way for you to run your business.

Again, it goes back to managing expectations in the beginning. If there is a delay, tell them immediately. And always go back to your mantra when you have to break some bad news: “Mr. Client, I promised to always tell you the good truth and the bad truth as soon as I get it. Today, I have a bad truth to share with you and I need your help in getting this issue resolved.” Try it and you’ll be surprised. As always, honesty-timely honesty- is always the best policy

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