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How to deliver bad news with minimum pain

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We are all tuned to accepting the happy and good things that come our way in life and keep away from anything even remotely unpleasant.  As empathetic beings, we may feel that by delivering bad news, we are engaging in negativity.  In fact communicating bad news can be really tough in comparison to receiving it.  However the task is unavoidable.  The point is to be truthful and honest while keeping in mind to make the news more bearable.

Let’s see how it can be done.

Give it some thought

First try to think about how you would view the situation had you been at the receiving end.  This will also help you get a fair idea about how the person might receive the news.  Also, if the news has had some impact on you, then you must give some time to yourself to settle down.

After that has been done, prepare how to put it forward to the person.  If you find it to be more challenging than you thought, try rehearsing it, writing it down or framing it in your mind.

You aren’t at fault

Remember that by delivering an unpleasant piece of information, you aren’t transforming into a bad person.  Your intention isn’t to hurt anyone and you might not be the cause of the situation.  If you have to break the news about removing someone from a certain position at work, it’s probably the management’s decision or the employee may not be doing a great job.  Maybe the news might not be taken well at first but feeling guilty about it isn’t going to help anyone.

Check for the right time

It may not always be a good idea to break the bad news immediately.  For example.  If the bad news can wait till the next day after a person’s birthday, then wait for it.

Having said that, if the news needs immediate attention and has to be conveyed urgently, then interrupting would be necessary.

Be polite

If the news is going to affect the person’s self- esteem, then you may have to start by building onto a story.  Being outright frank might hurt or harm the person.  Look into the matter and convey it in the most polite way possible.

Share details

The person involved has the right to know honest and truthful details and the background.  Make sure they get all the information and also how you got to know about it.

Take responsibility for the immediate follow up

Looking into the person’s reaction is an important responsibility while breaking a piece of bad news.  If the person wants to be taken to the hospital in case of a close one’s accident, then make sure that you assist him or her in doing so.  Try your best to make the person feel comfortable and reduce the burden for him or her.

If necessary get help from a reliable source

Conveying the message single-handedly may require a lot of effort and often may actually involve multiple people.  Also, if someone else may do a good job at easing the pain, it is better to take help. If another team member or a family member can offer support then reach out to them.

Be empathetic

You may acknowledge how hard it is going to be for the person.  Expressing your concern by saying “I can understand how you feel” or “I know this is going to be hard for you, but it will pass” can ease the person’s pain.  If the person requires some privacy and would like to be left alone, then grant her that.

Breaking bad news isn’t a pleasant thing to do but it is also a part of life.  The news could be anything ranging from spoiling someone’s prized table mat to telling a close friend you can’t make it for her wedding or telling someone that they have lost their job.  Showing sympathy and kindness is mandatory in different situations.  Also respect how the person may feel and do it in the most truthful way possible.

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Sharika Nair

Uncrowned Queen of certified PJs. Positive thinker. Writer . Author. Marathon Runner. Brand Marketing expert.

About the Author

Sharika Nair

Uncrowned Queen of certified PJs. Positive thinker. Writer . Author. Marathon Runner. Brand Marketing expert.

Read more from Sharika