• Bearing Bad News – Part 2

  • Bearing Bad News - Part Two

    Last month I talked about some of the dos and don’ts of delivering bad environmental news to a client. This month I want to expand on this topic and address some of the finer points of being the bearer of bad news. It’s always something we hope not to have to do, but really is unavoidable in the business of environmental consulting.

    Back It Up

    When you are the bearer of bad news, you always need to back it up, in several ways. Make sure your data is correct, and supports your professional opinion. Ensure your findings are reported accurately, and you provide all relevant information to your client and to other stakeholders as needed, or directed by your client. And lastly back everything up in writing! There are times when you may need to provide a brief verbal summary, or even by text or a quick e-mail; but always follow up in writing with the pertinent details, especially if the issue involves regulatory reporting or litigation, and when you are providing remedial recommendations and/or cost estimates.

    Be Respectful

    Don’t forget that you may be relaying dire news to your client that could have serious consequences for them and others. Talk to your clients calmly, using terms and language they can clearly understand and try to avoid the techno jargon some consultants over-use. Be honest, forthright and respectful of your client and their situation. Don’t minimize their problem (‘oh this is nothing, we work on worse than this everyday’), but at the same time try not to make them think the sky is falling. Every client and every environmental problem is unique and deserves their consultant’s full attention and expertise. If you don’t have the necessary experience, time or resources to help solve the problem, inform your client and try to refer them to someone who can.

    Don’t Beat Yourself Up

    Many years ago, I would take it personally when we found contamination at a client’s site; and couldn’t help but lose sleep worrying about their problem. Although somewhat noble, this approach is counter-productive and not sustainable, and I have learned to let it go. After all; I didn’t spill the chemical, cause the tank to leak, or buy a dirty old gas station without conducting due diligence. As consultants, we should try our best to solve our client’s problems, but except for cases of actual negligence or misconduct, we should stop feeling responsible for situations we didn’t cause and can’t control. There are enough situations where the messenger gets the blame; we shouldn’t add to that burden ourselves.


    Bill Leedham, P. Geo., CESA, QPESA

    About the Author:
    Bill is the Head Instructor and Course Developer for the Associated Environmental Site Assessors of Canada (www.aesac.ca); and the founder and President of Down 2 Earth Environmental Services Inc. You can contact Bill at info@down2earthenvironmental.ca