Delivering bad news to senior stakeholders

I had one of those high powered meetings today where I had to speak to the big boss in a large organisation and tell him his project was not just late, it was going to cost him a few million more. I was expecting the meeting to be difficult but it could have gone worse. On the face of the news I was giving him, it was ok.

So what are my tips in dealing with situations like this.

Be Prepared

First of all, you don't go into a meeting like that with half-baked ideas or a lack of facts. You need to do your research, get your story straight and rehearse. I practiced what I was going to say. I prepared myself for different eventualities and questions. How would I react if got ill tempered? What questions would I ask if I was in his shoes?

I also prepared options as I knew he wouldn't like what I presented. So I had prepared some alternatives with different options and provided my thought process around the relative strengths and weaknesses of the different options. I had already concluded that there was only one viable way forwards but he needed to see that I had at least considered different approaches.

Leave Emotion out of it

Deal with facts. There is no point in getting worked up or upset. I am not trying to cause the project to fail. Actually, I want the project to be successful which is what I am presenting. I was providing the only route forwards for success of the project. He didn't like the message but keep to well thought facts, it didn't give him the chance to get emotional about it.


I know it was going to be a hard message for him as it will have an impact on other aspects of his organisation (not only the price tag involved). The key is to listen carefully and really try to understand everything from his perspective. What knock on impacts does he see? Is there anything I haven't considered that will make it easier for them?

The end

At the end of the meeting he thanked me for my well thought out recommendation even though it wasn't what he wanted to here. He also thanked me for having a like-minded attitude for driving through success.

Sometimes, challenging stakeholders can thank us for bad news when we present it in a good way.

Has anyone got similar examples of giving difficult news? What approaches have you used to get a good outcome in a difficult situation?

Image source: Pexels

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