Sharing Bad News in
the Kindest Way

Receiving Bad News

Sharing bad news is never easy no matter how close, or distant, you are to the person you are sharing it with. You may be telling your family about an illness or death of another relative, resigning from a job that was developed for you, or explaining to a client that their project will be delayed.

No matter who you’re sharing bad news with or the situation that brought the task to you, it is imperative to see the situation from the other side and know that kindness is called for. Putting others first in your consideration is the etiquette-ful role.

Kindness Matters

Your news will likely be received in a negative way and could change another person’s view of the future. Kindness lessens the immediate effect of stress and anxiety for others. There is no better time to be kind.

  • No matter the circumstances, these kind actions are called for:
  • Remind yourself that you would want someone to be thoughtful of you if bad news were forthcoming.
  • Realize the other person needs your compassion and communicate in a warm way.
  • Recognize that being present in the moment with the other person conveys a sense of their importance as a person.
  • Listen to any questions or feedback with understanding. Even if the reaction is tough to handle.
  • Retain a positive tone throughout.

Sharing Bad News Evokes 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

It’s best to rehearse and visualize the delivery of your message to consider the questions, observations, or perceptions the person receiving your information may have. You can prepare your answers and clarifications ahead of time, crafting responses that are thoughtful and kind.

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 to provide space for emotional expression. Emotions can vary.
  • Be observant and at the ready to pause and 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 that may be mentioned during your conversation.

Part of being human is facing the times when we need to share or receive bad news. And we never know how we might respond to unwelcome information.

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 their 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 and thoughtfulness you show will be remembered as well.

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