The Benefits of Bad News

November 3, 2022

No brand wants to upset stakeholders. But telling the truth – and showing you care – can help your professional relationships thrive.

There’s no news like good news, and at Candor, we often get to share clients’ positive stories: opening elementary school STEM centers, successful public affairs campaigns and exciting new hires.  

But sometimes, we’re called to help with tragedies and loss.  The way organizations handle those situations can say a great deal about their values and trustworthiness.  

I thought about this recently when I saw this post from the park and rec department of Mecklenburg, N.C.: 

I wouldn’t particularly consider myself a tree hugger, but the post made me feel something. It’s clear the people who go to Freedom Park know and love this tree, and the officials understand that. 

They provided clear, necessary information, with a strong dose of empathy. Besides telling the public what they need to know – and lowering the chances of rumor filling an information void – the post builds trust. It demonstrates the people maintaining the park are real people who share emotions with their readers.  

Some organizations wouldn’t have wanted to go out on a limb to tell a sad story. They might just assume nobody will miss the tree or decide not to be the bearer of bad news. But when official sources stay quiet, someone else usually provides a story – and it may not be flattering.  

For example, Candor knows of an organization which made what leadership thought was an innocuous decision. But some stakeholders who didn’t know the real reasons behind the decision, started filling in the blanks with various theories, mostly ascribing political beliefs to leadership. Getting ahead of the story would have helped the truth win out.  

Things get truly thorny for leaders when they’ve done something wrong or hurt someone. Saying “I messed up” can feel like digging yourself into a hole. Doing so, however, is a vital first step to planting seeds of renewed respect. 

Confronting issues directly – even if it’s not a celebration – builds up a foundation of trust that can blossom into deeper, stronger relationships with your audience over time.  

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