Life Skills 101: How to Deliver Bad News to Anyone


Whether you are a parent letting your child down, a supervisor who has to let an employee go, or a doctor delivering a difficult diagnosis, it is never easy to give someone bad news. No one enjoys it. In fact, most of us dread it.

The manner in which you break the news can affect the outcome, influence the other person's emotions, and even create a bigger problem. Using the tips found below on how to break bad news, you can ensure a smoother interaction and the least amount of discomfort possible. (See also: Express Condolences Without Saying Something Stupid)

1. Consider Your Own Emotions Before You Begin

If you are upset or angry, take some time to calm your nerves and dry your tears if you need to. Your ability to remain calm throughout the conversation will help the person receiving the bad news to remain calm as well.

2. Sit at the Same Level

It is never a good idea to be standing while the other person is sitting. This puts the person who is standing in a position of power, which can be very intimidating for the person who is receiving the bad news.

In addition to considering your seating position, be sure that your physical location is comfortable and private. Take precautions so that no one who should not hear the news does so. (See also: 25 Ways to Communicate Better)

3. Start the Conversation With Something Neutral

Whether it's a compliment, some good news, or a reassuring comment about the person or situation, breaking the ice with something benign can help lessen the anxiety the person you are speaking to will feel. This calms both your nerves.

When appropriate, provide positive news after the bad news, as well. This works well when you are giving criticism about a job performance, sharing a medical diagnosis, or especially when dealing with a child.

4. Provide as Many Facts as Possible

Sticking to the facts when you initially break the news will help the person understand the situation better. If you insert your emotions into the situation, the person hearing the bad news may struggle with hearing the truth or be stuck on the emotions. It is also best to stay focused on the topic, be direct, and not stray from the intended message.

The exception to this tip is if you are speaking with a child and delivering bad news, you will want to consider which facts are necessary and which are going to cause undue stress. Too many facts can confuse a child and cause him or her to become overly stressed or overwhelmed. (See also: 5 Best Parenting Books)

5. Avoid Negotiation

Whether you are issuing a reprimand to an employee, breaking up with a partner, or punishing a child, avoid making deals with the person. Stick to your plan and stay determined to give the information and the facts that you plan to give. Children and employees will often ask for "one more chance." It is important that you avoid doing that, as it can undermine your decision making and give the person reason to believe the next time you give them bad news won't count, either.

6. Offer Solutions and Alternatives

Providing an alternative to the situation can show your willingness to work for a more positive outcome and better ensures it occurs in the future. Provide an action plan to the person to turn their bad news into something good.

7. Remain Sympathetic

Showing that you understand the emotions the other person is feeling is respectful and can go a long way toward future interactions. Comments like "I understand how you are feeling," and "I'm sorry to be the one to tell you this," or "I'm here for you if you need to discuss this more" will help alleviate some of the stress and calm the other person's nerves.

A normal reaction to bad news is anger or crying; be sure to treat those reactions with respect, as well. Never tell the person they are overreacting or that they should quit crying. Offer them a sympathetic comment, some tissues, and time to work through their emotions. (See also: How to Manage Powerful Emotions)

If you are tasked with providing bad news to someone, it is very important to plan what you are going to say, keep your emotions under control, stick to the facts and remain respectful throughout the interaction. These tips will offer as best of an experience as possible for everyone involved.

Have you ever had to deliver bad news. How did you do it?

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