Remembering Kindness When
Sharing Bad News

Sharing Bad News

Bad news comes in myriad forms.  And sharing it is never easy.   

Whether you’re telling a client the project they’ve been working on will not be going forward, quitting a job that was developed for you, or letting your family know you are ill, kindness plays an etiquette-ful role by putting others first in your immediate consideration.

Kindness Matters

Your news will change another person’s view of the future and will be immediately perceived in a negative way. 

Kindness lessens the immediate effect of stress and anxiety for others when bad news is shared.  There is no better time to be kind. 

No matter what the bad news, these kind actions will be called for:

  • Remind yourself that you would want someone to be thoughtful of you if bad news were forthcoming.
  • Realize the other person needs compassion and communicate in a warm way.
  • Recognize that being present in the moment with the other person conveys a sense of their very importance as a person.
  • Listen to any questions or feedback with understanding.
  • Retain a positive tone throughout.

Bad News Brings Emotions

Bad news typically receives an emotional reaction because it is unwelcome, distressing, and sometimes even life-altering.

There are also times when the messenger (you) may be confused with the message.  In other words, you may be personified as the bad news, which may cause the person receiving the news to label you as a “troublemaker,” “the enemy,” or “self-centered.”  

This is why unpleasant news is best delivered as briefly, clearly, and cleanly as possible, keeping in mind that compassion and empathy will also be required on your part.  And while the tendency to delay anything that is uncomfortable, stressful, and difficult is great, it is best to share your news as soon as possible.

When You’re Ready to Share

As you rehearse and visualize the delivery of your message, consider the questions, observations, or perceptions the person receiving your information may have and prepare your answers and clarifications. 

When you’re ready, carry through . . .

  • Arrange a time and place to meet when you will be unhurried and won’t be interrupted.  If the news is business-related, meet in an office or conference room that provides some privacy.
  • Speak with a peaceful tone and be genuine.
  • Factually, and without embellishment, state the news in clear and unambiguous language.
  • Validate the person’s feelings – perhaps with a summary of how it must feel to receive this type of news.
  • Plan for space for emotional expression.  Emotions can vary.
  • Be observant and ready to pause to allow time for the other person’s expressions of feeling.
  • Avoid placating, joking, playing down or making light of the situation.
  • Don’t let your own emotions cause you to overindulge with details that aren’t necessary to get the message across.
  • Do not rush the meeting or argue during your time together.  Everyone is vulnerable at times like this.
  • If the person receiving your news already suspects or has heard about what you are sharing, gently clarify the situation and any inaccuracies.

The Bottom Line

Part of being human is facing the times when we will need to share or receive bad news.  And we never know how we might respond to unwelcome information.  Hopefully, we will never be expected to paste a smile on our face or have to process everything right away.

Unfortunate news is rarely accepted immediately, at least not on an emotional level.  When sharing it, be prepared to repeat some or all of what you have said.  

In situations where loss is experienced, you may witness another person not being her best self.  Always aim for kindness and compassion.  And though it may be remembered that you are the one who shared in this difficult moment, the respect you show will be remembered as well.

Kindness is a language which the deaf can hear
and the blind can see.

~ Mark Twain

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