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How to deliver bad news

How to deliver bad news

“I have something to say that may be difficult to hear.”

See also:

  • 😔 How to apologize/say you’re sorry
  • How to offer comfort/give sympathy

Start Here

  • Delivering bad news is a tricky operation that must done with empathy, patience, and sensitivity.
  • These types of messages must include the following elements:
    • Straight, easy-to-understand summary of the bad news.
    • An acknowledgement of the pain/inconvenience.
    • Information about either what they can do about it (what’s in their control) or what someone is doing about it.
  • Deliver it in person if possible – it’s so much easier to create an emotional connection with someone face to face.
  • Listen to understand – the simple act of listening goes a long way to expressing empathy.
  • Talk a beat slower – you’ll want to speak faster, but their brains will have a harder time keeping up with you.
  • Use the Rule of Threes our brains have a much easier time taking in and retaining information when it’s presented in three main points.
  • Be honest and transparent – be vulnerable in being honest; it’s a great way to build trust in these situations.

Understanding the Brain Chemistry Behind High Emotion

Crisis and high stress changes our brain chemistry. Before even attempting to talk with upset people, you need to have a basic understanding of how our brains react to stress.

  • Emotions must always come first, facts second.
  • Visual cues matter – we rely on visual cues even more when we are stressed.
  • Negative dominance theory – stress causes us to focus more on the negative than the positive.

Talking Points

  • Hi <name>, can I grab you for a quick chat?
  • I have some difficult news.
  • I have something to say that may be difficult to hear.
  • I want to be completely honest with you, and I want to do that.
  • <Tell them the news in plain, easy-to-understand language>.
  • I know that is a lot to take in, but I’m here to listen and to answer any questions you may have.
  • What we’re going to do right now is <detail next steps, what they can do, what is being done>.
  • Whatever you are feeling – anger, sadness, confusion, betrayal – is completely understandable.
  • I’m here for you.
  • Is there someone I can call for you?
  • Can I get you a glass of water?

Further Reading


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