How to write an email with bad news

    Business Spotlight 9/2022
    A woman looking worried in front of her computer
    © Aleksei Morozov/
    Von Ken Taylor

    Whether you’re the boss or an employee, you will almost certainly have to give bad news to someone at some point. Obviously, delivering bad news is not fun, but it is a fact of life. There are many reasons why you might have to do this — including minor things, like reminding a colleague about something they’ve forgotten, or informing a customer that they can’t have what they want, but also very stressful situations, like telling someone they’re going to lose their job.

    In March 2022, the boss of a British ferry operatorFährenbetrieber(in)ferry operator fired 800 employees, without noticeohne Vorankündigung, fristloswithout notice, via video call. The media called him “the most hated man in Britain”. Clearly, some ways of delivering bad news are better (or should I say “worse”?) than others.

    How to do it

    When you’re giving someone bad news, first decide whether email really is the best way. Maybe a face-to-facepersönlichface-to-face meeting is more appropriateangemessenappropriate, even if it’s harder. Sending an email has the advantage of creating a written recordAufzeichnungrecord of the exchange, however, and it gives you time to gather your thoughts and express them in the right way.

    Imagine you must inform a customer that you cannot complete an order by the specified deadline because of a technical problem in production. We’ll create an appropriate email step-by-step.

    Before you start, make sure you have all the relevant facts and details to hand. You want the message you send to be accuratekorrekt, präziseaccurate, and you want to be able to answer any questions from the customer.

    Next, decide on the tone. How well do you know the person you are writing to? How formal or informal should you be? In this case, we’ve never met Mr Jones, the purchaserKäuferpurchaser, in person, so the tone will be quite formal.

    Let’s now follow a six-point plan for the email itself.

    1. Start with the bad news

    Be upfront (ifml.)direktupfront. Make sure the recipientEmpfänger(in)recipient knows immediately what the situation is. If you leave the bad news to the end, it could be misunderstood or misinterpreted.

    Order no. 789076

    Dear Mr Jones

    I’m afraid it will not be possible to to dispatch sth.etw. versendendispatch the above order in time to meet the May 17th deadline.

    2. Explain the context

    Tell the customer how and why the problem to occurauftretenoccurred. Normally, technical details won’t be necessary — just a briefkurzbrief, simple description of the situation.

    We have had some technical problems with our production lineFertigungsstraße, Fließbandproduction line that have caused the delay. The problems have now been to resolve sth.etw. lösenresolved with the installation of new equipment.

    3. Apologize when necessary

    If you or your organization is to be at fault (for sth.)die Schuld (für etw.) tragenat fault, now is the moment to apologizesich entschuldigenapologize professionally. Do not use overemotional language. Simply say you’re sorry and that steps have been taken to make sure it won’t happen again.

    I’m very sorry about this. I have been to assure sb. sth.jmdm. etw. versichernassured by our technical people that this will not happen again.

    4. Offer a resolution

    Try to find some kind of resolutionLösungresolution to the situation or, at least, something to minimize the impactAuswirkung(en)impact of the bad news.

    We would be able to arrange delivery of your order on May 21st. Please let me know if this is acceptable.

    5. Provide a quick contact option

    Even if the customer knows your contact information, include the quickest way to reach you for any follow-upWeiterverfolgungfollow-up.

    The best way to contact me is on my mobile (UK)Handymobile: 07765 84635.

    6. End positively

    Try to end with a few positive words. This may help reduce the stress of the situation and might even help keep the business relationship intact.

    Our recent investment in state-of-the-artauf dem neuesten Stand der Technik, hochmodernstate-of-the-art production equipment will to ensure sth.etw. sicherstellenensure that any future orders will be trouble-free.


    Here’s another example of an email with bad news. In this scenario, the recipient is a client who has requested information from a management consultancyUnternehmensberatungmanagement consultancy.


    Dear Ms Mason

    Thank you for your email requesting the detailed results of our researchRecherche(n)research into the commercial applications of blockchain technology.

    I’m afraid the information you have asked for is confidentialvertraulichconfidential and for our internal use only. This means that I cannot provide you with the full report.

    The participants in the research were promised total anonymity and that only a general summaryZusammenfassungsummary of the research would be published.

    I’m sorry if this causes you some inconvenienceUnannehmlichkeit(en)inconvenience.

    I would be happy to provide you with a copy of the generalized summary of the blockchain technology report if you think it would be of help.

    Please give me a call on my direct number, which you have, if you wish to discuss this further.


    best regardsmit freundlichen GrüßenBest regards


    When delivering bad news, it is important to be clear, so there can be no misunderstandings or misinterpretations. Honesty to go a long wayviel bewirkengoes a long way, too. Accept fault and apologize when necessary.

    Essential phrases

    Start with the bad news

    • I’m afraid that it is not possible for us to…
    • I regret that…
    • I’m sorry to have to tell you that…

    Explain the context

    • The situation is that…
    • The background to this is…
    • So, why is this the case?

    to apologizesich entschuldigenApologize when necessary

    • I’m sorry for the inconvenienceUnannehmlichkeit(en)inconvenience.
    • Please accept our apologies.
    • I’m very sorry...

    Offer a resolutionLösungresolution

    • It might be possible for us to…
    • One alternative would be to…
    • On the other hand, we could…

    Provide a quick contact option

    • The simplest way to contact me is…
    • Please call me on my mobile (UK)Handymobile / direct number.
    • To contact me directly, please call me on…

    End positively

    • I would be happy to help you with anything else.
    • Let’s to keep in touchin Kontakt bleibenkeep in touch.
    • This will help us improve in future.

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    Dann nutzen Sie die Möglichkeit und stellen Sie sich Ihr optimales Abo ganz nach Ihren Wünschen zusammen.

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