Tell me about a time you had to communicate a difficult message
- 1 Tell me about a time you had to communicate a difficult message
- 2 Other interview questions that are similar
- 3 What the interviewer is looking for by asking this question
- 4 How best to structure your answer to this question
- 5 What you should NOT do when answering questions
- 6 Tell me about a time you had to communicate a difficult message – Example answers
- 7 Other Interview Question and Answers
Other interview questions that are similar
- Describe an instance where you had to deliver bad news in a professional setting.
- Recall a situation where you had to explain a complex problem to someone without technical knowledge.
- Can you share an experience where you had to discuss a sensitive issue with a colleague or team member?
- Have you ever had to inform someone about a significant change that negatively impacted them? How did you handle it?
- What approach did you take when you needed to convey disappointing results or setbacks to your superiors?
- Describe a time when you had to persuade a group about a decision they were initially opposed to.
- Can you talk about an occasion where you had to break unexpected or unplanned news to a client or customer?
What the interviewer is looking for by asking this question
There are probably an infinite number of questions that the interviewer could ask you on the day. Some questions are incredibly common appearing in almost every interview you will have, while other questions you might hear once and never again regardless of how many jobs you apply for.
Fundamentally though all interview questions are really trying to find out one of 3 things:
1 – Can you do the job? (Do you have the skills/experience needed?)
2 – Will you do the job? (Do you have the drive/motivation to get the job done?)
3 – Will you fit in? (Does your personality match the workplace culture? Are you likeable?)
That’s it. Those are the 3 things that the interviewer is trying to ascertain. Every question that is asked of you will fundamentally be trying to resolve one (or more) of these 3 things.
When you’re asked to recall a time you had to communicate a difficult message, the interviewer is likely assessing more than just your communication skills. They’re looking at how you handle challenging situations (point 1 – Can you do the job?), your emotional intelligence and empathy in delivering tough news (point 3 – Will you fit in?), and perhaps your commitment to transparency and integrity in the workplace (point 2 – Will you do the job?).
Your response should therefore highlight these aspects. Focus on explaining the situation briefly, detailing the action you took, and most importantly, reflecting on the outcome or what you learned. This approach shows not only your capability to handle difficult conversations but also your understanding of their impact on team dynamics and workplace culture. Remember, the interviewer is less interested in the situation itself and more in how you navigated it. Keep your answer clear, concise, and relevant to these underlying themes.
How best to structure your answer to this question
Unless the question you are asked is a straight ‘up or down / yes or no’ style question then you are going to need to learn to describe, expand and elaborate on your answers. The best way of doing this is to follow the B-STAR technique for answering interview questions.
Answers using this method follow the below structure:
B – Belief – What are your thoughts and feelings with regard to the subject matter?
- Discussing your beliefs and feelings about delivering a difficult message highlights your personal values and communication style, which are key factors in determining how you will interact with colleagues and handle challenging conversations in the workplace.
S – Situation – What was going on? Briefly explain the scenario that was taking place.
- By concisely describing the situation, you show the interviewer your ability to identify and focus on key issues, a skill essential for effective communication in any role.
T – Task – What was your role in the action?
- Clarifying your role in a challenging situation helps the interviewer understand your level of responsibility and initiative, reflecting on your capability to handle similar tasks in the job.
A – Activity (or action) – What did you do?
- Detailing the actions you took and the rationale behind them gives the interviewer insight into your problem-solving and decision-making skills, which are integral to performing the job effectively.
R – Result – How did everything end up?
- Sharing the outcome, especially with quantifiable results, provides concrete evidence of your effectiveness in handling difficult situations, which is a valuable trait in any job role.
Remember though that the B-STAR technique is descriptive not prescriptive. You do not need to follow this flow strictly, go with what is best for your answers and that will allow you to put your point across and show your experience the best.
What you should NOT do when answering questions
Do not avoid the question – Give a clear example of when you had to communicate a difficult message.
Do not downplay the situation – Show the importance and challenge of the message you had to deliver.
Do not overhype the situation – Be realistic about the difficulty to demonstrate your level-headed approach.
Do not give a one-sentence answer – Provide enough detail to clearly convey your role and actions.
Do not overly describe the scenario and miss the action – Focus on your specific actions in communicating the difficult message.
Do not have a passive role in the situation – Highlight your active role in managing and delivering the message.
Do not forget to mention what you learned – Conclude with what the experience taught you about communication or handling difficult situations.
Tell me about a time you had to communicate a difficult message – Example answers
Example Answer 1 (Detailed)
“In my previous role as a team leader, I strongly believed in transparency and honesty, especially when it came to challenging news. There was a situation where our team was behind schedule on a major project due to unforeseen technical difficulties. My task was to inform the client about the delay, a responsibility I took very seriously.
I carefully planned my approach. First, I gathered all the relevant information about the delay, ensuring I understood the technical issues and the estimated time needed to resolve them. Then, I arranged a meeting with the client, opting for a face-to-face discussion rather than an email or phone call, as I felt it was more respectful and effective for such sensitive conversations.
During the meeting, I was upfront about the situation, explaining the technical challenges we faced and how they impacted the timeline. I emphasized our commitment to quality and our plan to resolve the issues without compromising the project’s standards. To mitigate the impact of the delay, I proposed a revised timeline and offered additional support in other areas of the project as a gesture of goodwill.
The client appreciated the honesty and the proactive steps we took. While initially disappointed, they were understanding and agreed to the new timeline. The situation resulted in a delay of two weeks, but we managed to maintain client trust and satisfaction. We ultimately delivered a high-quality project, and the client commended our team’s dedication and transparency.
This experience reinforced the importance of clear and empathetic communication, especially in difficult circumstances. It taught me that being proactive and solutions-oriented in conveying bad news can preserve and even strengthen professional relationships.”
Example Answer 2 (Shorter)
More Sample Answers…
The examples provided above can serve as a foundation for creating your unique answers. For additional inspiration, our new guide includes five sample responses to this question and over 250 answers to all of the most common interview queries.