In our compliance roles, we are required to be frequent bearers of bad news. It is key to making good decisions, growing ethical companies, and building honest relationships.

To this point, the results of a study from the American Psychological Association are sobering. The study found bearers of bad news are perceived as unlikable and less competent or wanting the negative event to happen.

No wonder people kill the messenger.

It is critical to learn how to share difficult messages without damaging strategic relationships. So, let’s get good at it.

Through interviews I conducted on high-stakes stories from Wall Street to an army base in Afghanistan, and incorporating my own experience, I have codified a six-step process to help increase receptiveness to your message and reduce the likelihood of backlash in your career. Follow these six steps, and you will be much better positioned to achieve your goals.

1. Psychologically prepare your audience

Always brace your audience for bad news. This reduces the risk of damaging relationships and allows the other party to think clearly.

The irony in our industry is we have been talking about psychological safety for years. We understand the importance of it. When delivering bad news, we must think about the psychological safety of both ourselves as the deliverer and those on the receiving end. It is not easy to be on either side.

Start by saying something as simple as “I wish I had better news,” which psychologically prepares your audience. It reduces the potential shock and negativity they feel when they hear the information so they trust you are telling the truth. Calibrate expectations by setting context for the bad news: How long will it last? What is the estimated cost? What needs to change?

2. Rehearse confident delivery

When you are delivering bad news, practice your talking points. This will help you project the right balance of confidence, humility, and gravitas.

Be aware of your body language and vocal tone. When time is on your side, record yourself presenting. Do you sound confident, influential, and caring? Or hard-nosed and cold? Or insecure and apologetic (when you had no hand in the matter)?

You want your voice to sound calm, credible, and as if you care about the impact of the news on the organization and its leaders. Practicing has been proven to both enhance your credibility with powerful people and reduce the considerable emotional distress that can accompany your job.

3. Be fully present and focused

We live in a constant state of distraction. If you are unfocused while delivering an important message, you are going to undermine the impact and the result.

If you are thinking, “I can’t wait to get this over with and rush to that other meeting,” that will come across in a way that is going to shape the result. People will respond to the impression and feeling you are not really there and you don’t care.

When delivering bad news, the method matters. In person is best, followed by video conference and telephone. Aim for a face-to-face meeting to reduce the likelihood of misunderstandings and escalations. Email is at the bottom of the delivery mode wish list; it robs you of the instant opportunity to clarify and read emotional cues such as tone of voice and body language.

You need to know how your message and the expression of your governance power is being received. Have you shared enough information? What questions does the person have? Did they even read your full message or just the first two sentences before they reacted without time to process? You want to be there as the guide by their side.

4. Convey benevolent, proactive intent

The recipients of negative news are inclined to assign malevolent motives to the person delivering it. Be aware of this bias against you. Help remind them they hired you to do this job by expressing genuine empathy.

If you or your team had a hand in the issue, offer a sincere apology and remediation plan. Tell the truth, even when it hurts. Show people you care. And immediately move to potential solutions.

How can we fix it? How can we get this paid back over time? Communicate the path forward and efforts underway to prevent it from happening again. Compassion emphasizes your good intent as a trusted adviser.

5. Explain without justifying

It is important to avoid anything that sounds like an excuse when delivering bad news.

Share the facts with your audience so they understand what occurred. Done well, you will be seen as sincere and trustworthy, and stakeholders will find your explanation reasonable. This reduces the blame ascribed to you, increases the perception of fairness, and enhances the credibility of your message.

6. Add a sense of urgency

There is often a temptation to reframe bad news as a net positive. For important issues that require organizational attention, you don’t want to downplay the risk. Overly reframing a problem as beneficial can undermine the sense of urgency required to respond to crisis effectively.

Harvard Business School Professor John Kotter, a leading authority on organizational change, points to a lack of urgency as the No. 1 reason change efforts fail. It is tempting to downplay the problem. You might tell yourself, either consciously or unconsciously, “I’m going to soften this so that I or someone else doesn’t get fired.” And the recipients of bad news will be tempted to also downplay it. We are all predisposed to have a psychological compulsion to not want to face something that is hard.

We know this is ethically irresponsible. If you care about the company and you are committed to the company, you must be thinking long term. Do not blow your window of opportunity.

Effectively conveying urgency includes following up. It is critical to keep focus on the solution; this reinforces your prior success steps, like benevolent intent, and makes sure as more people get involved and time passes, the original message and facts do not get altered.

No one is immune to the fear and uncertainty of sharing difficult information. To increase the receptivity to your message and likelihood people are ready to hear and act on it, use these six steps whenever you need to deliver bad news. This will help you handle the situation in ways that work for you and your organization.