Breaking Bad News: 10 Tips For Doing It Right

Breaking bad news to someone is never easy

We all deal with ups and downs in life, and being able to overcome them is not an overnight process. That said, there are ways to make the process of delivering bad news to your close friends and family.

While giving someone heartbreaking news, primarily related to the death of a loved one, is a huge responsibility. Gaining a clear head space before breaking bad news is a positive way to go by the scenario. Giving them prior notice will help too.

Phrases to break bad news are difficult to find as many people find it hard to build their narrative, and not finding the right words behaves like a barrier to breaking bad news. It might make it seem time-consuming by being dragged along too. This blog will help you if you are wondering how to break bad news to someone.

Various mediums

It is not always easy to effectively communicate bad news relying mainly on how you say it. Here are most of the commonly used mediums used professionally or personally:

  • How to break bad news in an email: Knowing how to break bad news through an email is crucial. It’s best advised to keep a neutral/positive tone. In your explanation, be precise and factual about your narrative to avoid confusion.   
  • How to tell someone bad news over text: On text, be compassionate in your tone of delivery. Give a heads up about what type of conversation you would have and then begin; this will help prepare for what’s to come.
  • How to handle bad news at work: Once you get bad news at your workplace, finding some alone time from your work environment to process everything is best. Make sure you have made terms with it and then head back to your workplace.

How do you Break Bad News in a Positive Way?

How do you break bad news in a positive way? Your way of doing it will slightly ease the pain of unfortunate events when the delivery is right. Hence, to help navigate how to handle the situation, we categorized terrible news into three types to better your assessment.

  • Health-related: To anybody who has a severe/life-threatening health issue, this category comes under it. For example, breaking bad news to cancer patients is heartbreaking news that needs a caring attitude when told to the patient dealing with the disease/health issue. Here are three tips for breaking bad news for a health issue.

    • Be compassionate while explaining and try to explain it in simple terms without jargon and complicated medical terms.
    • When the patient’s family and friends are present together, break the bad news to them politely.
    • Best practice to inform them of a summary regarding its seriousness on a call (before meeting face to face if possible). Only applicable if the person is unavailable, such as out of the country or physically unavailable.
  • Employee-related: Managers deal with breaking bad news to their employees, a common practice when the company faces one of the two issues: unproductive work or being a toxic employee. Both these behavioral patterns lead to manager’s option of having to break the bad news to them and eliminating barriers to breaking bad news before giving the news. What are three tips for breaking bad news in a professional environment?

    • Be direct and state your message with a detailed explanation. It will help the employee clarify why the manager took such a decision.
    • Give space for venting, as it’s a common human emotion in such a scenario. Although discussion or debating about this should not happen, the decision stays put without a change.
    • Know what type of employee you deal with, pre-handed behavior-wise, etc. It will help access your narrative in a better format and delivery too.
  • Demise-related: Most of the time, we have to confront bad news about the demise as life goes on. With the passing away of anybody being a sensitive issue, when delivering bad news, it is important to keep in mind the dynamic they share with the deceased. We can make sure we reduce the barriers to breaking bad news and know how do you break bad news to someone, example, be involved with the person’s reaction and genuinely be present at the moment for them and their family.

Following are 10 Tips for Breaking Bad News

Tips for breaking bad news

Since knowing how to break bad news is tricky enough, we made a guide to help you through it. With the help of these tips, you would know how to be there for the person. It will help you navigate how you will deliver a sad news to someone correctly.

Set and manage expectations beforehand if you can

Make sure you know what type of atmosphere you are entering. The scenario can vary from firing an employee to giving heartfelt condolences about someone’s passing away.

Do a proper setup for the moment

It is best to stock up on resources such as tissues, water, etc.; it will help them feel cared for at such a low time. When you act and behave like you are a shoulder to lean on, it creates a sense of belonging in a time of need. 

Get to the point

Nobody likes it when somebody beats around the bush. That said, you need to know how to deliver bad news in a positive way(sample ahead); by picking the correct phrases to break bad news to the person; try to find out their last moments with the deceased, which will help you build your narrative.  

Explain the background and give details

As stated above, you need to build your narrative and build it precisely with the details and background. It lets them not gain additional shock from the scenario when someone else breaks the bad news in bits and pieces to them later on.

Be sitting down

Creating a safe space to take the bad news is crucial. Please ensure the person is seated comfortably and knows how to deliver bad news in a positive way (sample below); the burden becomes lighter.

  • Be a good listener: When you break the bad news of death to someone, be sensitive about the issue. Once you have explained your part, wait for their reaction. Then listen to what they say; pay attention, and allow them to express their feelings at their own pace. Having a dialogue about the demise is good healing progress because it confronts the demise.
  • Use positive language: When someone requires genuine support in a time of need, a positive attitude and approach helps. In addition, using positive language will help soothe the conversation. So, How will you deliver a sad news to someone? With positive language, you make a significant impact by helping them feel better about their situation. Breaking bad news about death and breaking bad news to cancer patients, these are some sensitive issues that will require this approach.
  • Give them space: Some people want their personal space to deal with grief. As much as we would like to help them escape their misery, dealing with emotional trauma is not an overnight process. Let them be with the assurance that the person is not suicidal of the scenario. If you suspect they can harm themselves, make sure sharp objects are unavailable in their room.  

Be sensitive to physical position

When you give bad posture, the opposite person may feel that you are disinterested in the conversation. If you maintain good posture, you do not radiate a lazy ambiance from yourself. Otherwise, it seems disrespectful to what the person is going through when you are not investing your time in being attentive. You probably play a part in their life, whether it be a sibling, friend, parent, etc.- play it efficiently.

Separate yourself from the message

Detach yourself from the narrative you narrate to the person. When delivering bad news, it is important to remember that the person will get emotional. Remember, these people only react out of sadness or anger, not because of what you did to them. Don’t take it personally when they say anything hurtful to you.

Be sympathetic

Most of the time, many people play a facade in scenarios like these. Faking it only makes the person going through the actual emotion of grief or loss feel worse. When one shows sympathy for a person’s situation, it shows you how you break the bad news to someone. Being emotionally available and attached will show them you are a shoulder to lean on. It makes the person going through the loss process the loss more easily.

Identify yourself and the patient

Make sure you recognize your dynamics with the patient are well defined. Please don’t talk about your life unless the patient asks because they may compare their own and feel affected by it. When breaking bad news to cancer patients, ensure you tread carefully; because you deal with different groups at different times. The reactions of emotions would come from the patients and their families.

Reframe the situation

Memory can get foggy sometimes. But it is essential to rewind and reframe what happened and the situation’s details; it will come in handy in preparing a compelling narrative with facts. If you can’t remember what happened, ask other people who were there or look for information through other sources. Don’t recite your narrative on what you only know.

Offer Alternatives

If you feel you are not the right person to deliver the news to this particular person for specific reasons- send in another friend. Another alternative could be you could take in their friends and stay in as moral support. If you know of it, you can help with the after-effects of dealing with the deceased’s formalities. How to handle bad news at work or how to tell someone bad news over text can be dealt with on the side too.


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