Negative News and Crisis Communication

These sections examine the impact of having to distribute negative news, and introduces seven important objectives that negative news messages should accomplish. After you read, try the exercises at the end of the section.


You don't hear things that are bad about your company unless you ask. It is easy to hear good tidings, but you have to scratch to get the bad news.

- Thomas J. Watson Sr.

One day, today, is worth two tomorrows.

- Anonymous

Getting Started

Introductory Exercises

  1. Write a brief description of an experience when someone shared negative news with you in person or in writing. How was it presented? How was it delivered? How did it make you feel? After all this time, how do you still feel about it? Share your response and compare with classmates.
  2. Write a brief description of an experience when you shared negative news with someone in person or in writing. How did you present it? How did you deliver it? How did you feel, and what was your perception of how it was received? How do you feel about it now? How do you perceive the recipient of the negative news may feel about it today? Share your response and compare with classmates.
  3. Locate the emergency plan where you work or go to school. What would you do in the case of an emergency? Discuss with classmates.
  4. Can you think of one company that has had a scandal, a major problem, or a crisis in the last year? Indicate the company and your perception of how the situation was handled. Discuss with classmates.
  5. Find five examples of press conferences and create a table with the product or service and the message.
  6. From Introductory Exercise 5, add a third and fourth column to your table, noting whether you thought the message was effective or ineffective.

Communication is constant, but is it always effective? In times of confusion or crisis, clear and concise communication takes on an increased level of importance. When an emergency arises, rumors can spin out of control, emotions can run high, feelings can be hurt, and in some cases lives can tragically be lost. In this chapter we will examine several scenarios in which negative news is delivered or received, and examine ways to improve communication. We will conclude with a discussion of a formal crisis communication plan. Whether you anticipate the necessity of being the bearer of unpleasant or bad news, or a sudden and unexpected crisis occurs, your thoughtful preparation can make all the difference.

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