Posts filed under ‘Tone’

Bearish to Bullish: A How-To Guide for Delivering Bad News

By Trey Bright

That hesitancy to step on someone’s toes or risk hurting someone’s feelings is natural. If you’re anything like me, you probably feel some intrinsic need to be liked by your peers and grimace at even just the thought of breaking bad news to them. But whereas popularity above all else seemed like a great strategy in high school, in the workplace, sometimes we have to have tough conversations.

Whether you’re providing an employee with negative feedback, rejecting a pitch, explaining to the board that you came up short on earnings, or laying people off, delivering bad news is never easy – but it can get a lot easier if you do it the right way. You may have heard of the four P’s of the marketing mix; well, I have four more P’s for you to have in your back pocket for the next time that you have to deliver bad news in the business world.


TreyA simple change of perspective can go a long way in overcoming the natural hesitancy to have that tough conversation you’ve been putting off. I get it; you don’t want to hurt your co-worker’s feelings – but let’s take a second to look at this from a different perspective. If you skip out on this tough conversation now, you may be hurting both your co-worker and the company even more in the long term! How can people improve if they’re oblivious to their weaknesses? Constructive feedback, both positive and negative, is critical in one’s personal and professional development – hurt feelings in the short term might just lead to a huge thank you down the road.


Gather all of the information you need before delivering bad news. You need to be well versed in all of the factors that led to reaching the final outcome. This preparation will enable you to engage in a productive dialogue back and forth and/or to provide necessary closure. After you understand the factors behind the situation, practice what you’ll say. Anticipate questions that may arise and prepare thoughtful answers that are both clear and direct.  Proper delivery is key to whether or not someone will be responsive to your message – through adequate preparation and rehearsal you can refine your delivery to ensure that your message is loud and clear.


When possible, respect the privacy of the individual or team you are dealing with. Hearing bad news is uncomfortable, so the more comfortable you can make an individual the more likely you will be able to engage in a productive dialogue. Consider meeting outside of your personal office; a more neutral site can ease some unnecessary intimidation and increase one’s responsiveness.


Take a forward-thinking approach. After you’ve delivered the news and allowed for the respondent to provide a reaction, be sure to propose suggestions on how best to move forward based upon the dialogue that you’ve just had and potential solutions that you’ve prepared. When appropriate, consider helping the individual(s) to create an action plan to effectively carry out the necessary development. Positive change is just around the corner, so provide any support the person needs to get there.

No one likes being the office bad guy–and with these four tips, you don’t have to be! The next time you need to deliver bad news, think back to these four P’s – you’ll be glad you did.


November 13, 2015 at 3:45 pm 3 comments

LeBron’s “Decision”

By Zach

In today’s post, I want to discuss in more depth an issue one of my fellow bloggers (Tato) mentioned briefly on November 2 and its relevance to business communication.  LeBron James began his career with the Cleveland Cavaliers and had spent every season with the team until July 1, 2010, when he became a free agent.  After a great deal of speculation, LeBron ultimately chose to join the Miami Heat (and their superstars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh).  This story seems harmless enough, right?  What caused the backlash for LeBron and his “decision”?

The Build-up.  As the most anticipated free agent in NBA history, LeBron’s decision understandably had a lot of build-up.  However, all the hype did not warrant a television program centered around his next team; LeBron and his advisors failed to realize that he already received plenty of attention and publicity and a brief statement or post on his website would have been the most appropriate method of communication.  Perhaps the best example of a tactful announcement came from LeBron’s Olympic teammate and 3-time NBA scoring champion, Kevin Durant.  Durant was also a free agent in the 2010 offseason and chose to stay with his current team, the Oklahoma City Thunder.  Instead of making a spectacle of his decision, Durant simply tweeted “Extension for 5 more years wit the thunder…this is a blessing!”  His tweet was subtle and to the point, making no attempt to draw unnecessary attention to himself.

The Show.  Even if LeBron was set on making his decision on television, he could have held a 3-minute press conference saying he was joining the Heat and was looking forward to next season—instead, the show lasted 75 tortuous minutes.  Even worse, LeBron didn’t announce his “decision” until 28 minutes into the program, an eternity for viewers who tuned in simply to hear one team name and then go back to their other activities for the evening.  LeBron also caused considerable backlash by saying he was “taking my talents to South Beach.”  His poorly worded statement implied that he was heading to Miami for the weather, nightlife, and spotlight, instead of basketball.  Furthermore, using the word “talents” also came off as arrogant.  LeBron would have been better advised to simply say “I am joining the Miami Heat for next season because I think it is the best decision for my career and my family.”  Lastly, LeBron chose to make the announcement in interview style, with Jim Gray serving as the interviewer.  I believe this choice was poor as Gray has a reputation as an abrasive interviewer with several previous negative encounters with notorious athletes.

The Backlash.  The firestorm after “The Decision” irreparably harmed LeBron’s reputation.  The Cleveland Cavaliers, LeBron’s former team, revealed that LeBron’s representatives had informed them of the decision only minutes before the television program went on air.  LeBron exhibited terrible business sense by failing to respectfully communicate with the Cavaliers.  He burned bridges with the team and his hometown fans in Ohio.  In an attempt to shield himself from critics, LeBron donated 100% of the proceeds from the television show to charity.  While this gesture was certainly a smart PR move, the damage had already been done, and the critics had pounced.  LeBron never should have requested this special television program, and if his advisors were insisting on a television announcement, LeBron should have kept it to a few brief sentences about how he was going to play basketball in Miami (instead of “taking his talents to South Beach).  From a business perspective “the decision” has surely damaged Lebron’s marketability despite his immense fan base and basketball talent.  Many fans and pundits still view LeBron as the “bad guy” because of this spectacle, which could have been easily avoided with some common sense, communication skills, and media savvy.

November 12, 2012 at 7:15 am 1 comment

The Value of Sincerity: Tim Cook’s Apology

By John Spivey

Sincere apologies from large corporations come few and far between.  These large corporations focus more on hiding or downplaying their mistakes rather than being honest and upfront.  One would think by now that corporations would realize that a deceptive style of business communication only leads to more consumer displeasure. Earlier this week after the Apple Corporation had made a mistake with its iOS 6 update, Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, exhibited how effective a sincere apology can be for consumers.  By taking a deeper look into this apology letter, one can see why consumers felt that the letter was sincere, and therefore effective.

Apple’s Mistake 

The Apple Corporation, most well known for the creation of the Mac Computer and the iPhones, is a software company that produces consumer electronics and computer software.  With the recent release of the iOS 6 update, consumers scrutinized Apple’s new mapping system. Before the iOS 6 update, Apple’s products used a Google mapping system; however, to create further space between Apple and its Android competitors, Apple created its own mapping system.  Consumers have not liked this change because the new Apple system lacks quality mapping detail and public-transit directions.

The Apology 

Tim Cook released an apology letter that was posted on the Apple website.  Large corporations such as Apple do not often use the sincere style of business communication seen within the letter.  Tim Cook included three main components that made the letter effective.  He:

  • Admitted and took responsibility for Apple’s mistakes. When communicating to an audience of displeased consumers, large corporations should first admit and take responsibility for their mistake.  In the first paragraph, Tim Cook bluntly stated, “we fell short on our commitment.  We are extremely sorry for the frustration we have caused…”  Tim Cook did not attempt to cover up Apple’s mistake, but rather sincerely acknowledged and apologized for the mistake.  Consumers responded positively to the sincerity because they felt that Tim Cook actually cared about them.
  • Provided alternatives.  Tim Cook provided helpful mapping alternatives that customers could download while Apple worked to fix their own mapping system.  Providing concrete alternatives gave consumers a viable mapping resource that they could use in the meantime.  Including the alternatives directly in the letter also saved the consumers from having to go out and search for other mapping systems on their own.  Tim Cook even went as far as recommending that people use the Google mapping system, which was the system that Apple was trying to move away from in the first place.  Through his provided alternatives, Tim Cook proved that he wanted to first help the consumers before actually worrying about Apple. 
  • Promised a solution.  Throughout the letter, Tim Cook reassured consumers that Apple would not rest until the mistake is corrected.  Tim Cook angled his letter to make it seem as if the consumers were the ones who set the standards for the company.  In the last paragraph he stated, “We know that you expect that from us, and we will keep working non-stop until Maps lives up to the same incredibly high standard.”  Tim Cook empowered the consumers to show that Apple was working, not only to benefit the company, but more importantly to gain back the respect and high-standard approval given by the consumers to the Apple Corporation.

The One Missing Point 

While many people are pleased with Tim Cook’s apology to Apple consumers, some critics argue that he did not provide any detail as to how Apple is actually going to fix the problem.  Providing concrete solutions, if he actually had any, would have been beneficial; however, his primary reason for not providing such answers was because he did not have any at the time.  Many consumers expressed great respect towards him for not filling their minds with empty solutions but instead promising that Apple will fix the problem in an honest and timely manner.

The sincerity within the apology letter was Tim Cook’s saving grace in the midst of Apple consumer uproar.  Instead of ignoring the mistake or promoting false solutions, he simply admitted the problem, gave alternative mapping ideas, and promised that the mistake would be corrected.  Sincere communication between a company and its consumers is vital.  Without sincerity Apple would have possibly taken a larger hit from consumers just like Netflix did when it failed at addressing the Netflix/Qwikster debacle.

October 7, 2012 at 2:59 pm 2 comments