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how to give your boss bad news

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

by | Apr 12, 2013 | By Karin Hurt, Career & Learning, Communication |

The Secret to Giving Your Boss Bad News Without Freaking Them Out

Darn-it. You screwed up. Or, perhaps you trusted your team and now you have empowerment fun amok. You don’t want to blame them, 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

When it comes to accountability conversations, one of the more challenging ones is when you’re the one who must be accountable—and give your boss bad news.

Let’s start with what we call the “No Blindside” rule.

If there is bad news to share, it’s always best that they hear it from you.

Not from another team member, not a client, and absolutely not from the news.

Don’t let your boss be surprised by bad news.

Now, the way you share it also gives you a chance to build your credibility and influence.

I had a direct report named Kim, that was so good at this, I took what she did and thought, “I’ve got to turn that into an acronym to make it easy for others to do. Here’s what Kim did and why it worked so well.

Kim’s Approach to Accountability Conversations (When She Was the One with the Bad News)

You see back in my call center days at Verizon, my team knew there were two things that would really get me fired up. First, if someone mistreated a customer. And second, integrity issues.

Kim knew that the situation she had to tell me about involved both. One of the supervisors on her team had seriously mishandled a customer situation AND they had lied to cover it up.

So Kim came to me using what we now refer to as the DARN method.

D- Disclose. (Explain the situation and root cause)

Kim came to me and explained the situation in detail.  And then what she did next was magic.

A-Accountability. (Don’t be a blamer of bad news)

She took complete accountability for the bad news.  Even though it wasn’t actually her who had screwed up, “honestly, I should have been closer to this situation”

R- Response. (Share your solution to fix the situation)

Then she shared exactly what she had already done to rectify the scene. “I’ve called the customer to make it right. And, alerted our social media team in case the customer goes to Twitter with this. I’ve given the supervisor a final written warning.” Her bad news was softened by her elegant response.

N- Next Steps. (Explain your plan and what you need next)

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

See Also: How to Stop Your Boss From Treating You Like a Kid.

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders find clarity in uncertainty, drive innovation, and achieve breakthrough results.  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. Eric Dingler (@EricDingler)

    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. Matt McWilliams

    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.

    • letsgrowleaders

      Matt, yeah… when something’s wrong, I am eager to hear about solutions.

  3. Magnolia Ripkin

    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.

    • letsgrowleaders

      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. Jennifer V. Miller

    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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