how to give your boss bad news

How to Give Your Boss Bad News (the D.A.R.N. way)

Darn-it. You screwed up. Or, perhaps you trusted your team and now you have empowerment run amok. You don’t want to blame, but you’re mad too. Your boss will be ticked. And worse, she might have to tell her boss. It’s time to come clean. How do you tell your boss the bad news?

The biggest mistake you can make with bad news is to wait too long. Your boss would rather know what’s going on, even if you don’t need his help.

Bad News the D.A.R.N. Way

The good news: handle this well and you’ll increase your leadership credibility. The bad news: you’ve still got bad news.

My phone rang the other day, with bad news. I was so impressed with the leadership recovery, I couldn’t be mad. His approach reduced my $%&@&+@ response to “darn”. In fact, I quickly jotted down his steps for you.

D- Disclosure (explain the situation and root cause)
“I’ve had a bad day. We have a bit of a situation I need to fill you in.” _______ happened and now we have _______. When I dug in deeper I learned it was caused by __________ (behavior or situation not person).”

A- Accountability (don’t be a blamer).
“I accept full responsibility. I should have been closer to this. Here’s how I can prevent that next time_______”

R- Response (share your solution)
“Here’s what I’ve already done _______ (it’s important to have something to say here).

N- Next Steps (share your plan and what you need)
Here’s what I’m going to do next______ I could use your help with _______ (if needed)”

Your turn. What’s your best advice for sharing tough news with your boss?

Posted in Career & Learning, Communication and tagged , , , .

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders resolve workplace ambiguity and chaos, so that they can drive innovation, productivity and revenue without burning out employees. She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager's Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and a hosts the popular Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. Karin and her husband and business partner, David Dye, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells - building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.


  1. I have an reply I use almost every time one of my team says, “Eric, we have a problem…” I say, “No such thing as problems, only solutions.” Also, I appreciate the fact my team sees as “we” have a problem. Getting your team to give you the bad news over hiding it starts way before there is bad new to deliver. You have build a bridge strong enough to bare the weight of truth. Don’t overreact to the “bad news” of others, and never gossip about the mistakes of others…or no body will want to tell you anything.

  2. You mean, cowering and avoiding the situation is not the right way? Shame.

    I have used this. I never realized I did but I do. I felt like the R-N part was basically my way of railroading past the part about me messing up and how it affects the company. It may have been, but the reality is it worked. It kept it forward-focused.

  3. I find that this is a lesson that is hard learned by people who are early on in their careers. We learn along the way that it shows more character to come forward with solutions and options.

    • Magnolia, so great to have you join the conversation. I completely agree. My hope for this community is that we can help accelerate one another’s learning.

  4. I learned early in my career that the only “surprises” my bosses liked were things like treats on their birthdays. 🙂 Unpleasant surprises are never welcome. And, your boss WILL find out sooner or later. The question is – do you want her to find out from you or from someone else?

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