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The Bearer of Bad News: How Do You Tell Someone Bad News

To be the bearer of bad news will never be easy. Nobody wants to start a conversation that is bound to be unpleasant. So when delivering negative news at work or even in your personal life, you would want to do it in a way that does not upset the recipient too much. That is the best you can do.

If you’re a social entrepreneur pulling out of charitable causes, an employee reporting plummeting stocks, a boss cutting back employees, an employee giving an unpleasant report to your superior, or a partner leaving a business deal, relaying bad news will never be comfortable for both parties.

This article will show you why it’s difficult for people to relay negative information and how you can deliver bad news in a positive way.

Why do people find it hard to deliver bad news?

Aside from the fact that the recipient of the bad news sometimes tends to shoot the messenger or bearer of the news (so to speak), there are many reasons people find delivering bad news very difficult.

Let’s get into the most common reasons behind the painful impact of doing this challenging task.

Receiving bad news distorts the mind

When people hear good things, the positive information activates the pleasure brain areas and inhibits the displeasure ones. So when people receive words of gratitude or even general praise, they tend to feel loved and respected.

But when people hear negative feedback, it doesn’t activate these pleasure pathways in the same way. There is no such inhibition. Bad news can distort one’s thinking and is known to be bad for mental health.

We’re afraid of frustrating people

No one wants to be the bearer of bad news when they know that person will be displeased with it.

When you tell them something that you know they won’t like or enjoy hearing, you tend to feel what they feel and in turn, feel bad for them.

We don’t want the other person to feel bad

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When someone tells a person something negative, it can affect how that person feels about themselves and their self-esteem.

Bad news doesn’t just make someone unhappy, it makes them feel worse psychologically. It causes anxiety, depression, low motivation, fear of future failure, and loss of trust in others.

So when they’re delivering bad news to someone else, they may start thinking of all the ways that person is going to be upset with what they have to say. They might even ask themselves if it’s fair or wise to bring up this issue at all.

How to communicate the bad news

Any bad news is hard to deliver. This is especially true if you have to tell your boss, a client, or a colleague. No one likes to give bad news. It’s stressful, and it can feel like you’re being blamed for something that’s out of your control.

You can’t take back your message once you’ve said it, so it’s important to think carefully before you share your thoughts.

Use these tips to help you deliver bad news effectively.

  • Prepare yourself

Absolutely no good news is ever easy to hear, and you should be prepared when delivering bad news so that the people involved can handle it in the least harmful way. Before giving the news, take some time to calm your mind, focus and prepare what you want to say. By doing this, you lower your risk of getting too caught up in emotions such as anger or frustration.

If you appear uncontrolled and unfocused during a conversation about bad news, you might also accidentally escalate the problem by accidentally revealing something that could otherwise have gone unsaid by accident. ​

  • Identify solutions beforehand

Before you meet with the other person, think critically about what may be upsetting them and try to come up with solutions that would make them happier. You may not be able to make things right, but you can definitely minimize any upset feelings by taking responsibility for your actions.

  • Be mindful of the timing and settings

Privacy and timing are very important when delivering bad news. As with any successful sales pitch, when relaying bad news, it’s always important to read the room and be mindful of the settings before starting a conversation. turn your cell phone off and make sure you’re in a private session without being disturbed as to not have distractions.

Privacy allows the other person that you’re speaking to not only to understand what’s going on but also helps them cope without feeling uncomfortable. The time of the message’s delivery is also very important so make sure you make your delivery promptly but without skipping out on preparation beforehand.

Never deliver bad news through email or through phone calls. The best way is to always deliver bad news personally.

  • Be genuine

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Always be sincere and genuine when relaying bad news. Try not to beat around the bush. Deliver the message you need to deliver with a genuine heart and remember that compassion is your greatest ally as it creates more understanding and builds trust between two parties.

  • Be genuine, honest and open.

Validate the emotions of the recipient even if those actions may be deemed offensive, depending on whose perspective we are looking from.

  • Prepare the receiver

News can be mentally and emotionally challenging to handle, especially if it’s unexpected. The best way for people to deal with bad news is by providing them a bit of time to prepare themselves for what’s coming next.

The least you can do for the receiver is to get them in the right condition to receive the unpleasant news. You can do this by explaining beforehand that you need to tell them something that they need to brace themselves for.

This way, when they do receive the news they won’t be as stunned or surprised. Make sure that you discuss important details with them and how the news will affect them.

  • Provide adequate information about the news

Bad news can leave you or someone else feeling down in the dumps, but by explaining what led to the bad news – you can take some of that sting away. Explaining where or when leads to how and why will help as well as preparing yourself to answer questions that are sure to come up.

So follow this format: who, what, when, where and why. This will include things like what went wrong, who is affected by the bad news (include yourself), when did it happen, where are the effects happening now and why did all this happen?

If there’s a way for you to explain your involvement here as well, that would be a nice touch. The point here is that providing context makes telling someone about bad news goes from depressing straight back into actionable information.

  • Be straightforward and direct

Talk about things in simple and clear terms. Don’t include any unnecessary details nor go into great detail because it’ll only add to the confusion of whatever you’re trying to convey.

Sometimes, what a person is feeling can be out of proportion with the event at hand, so he will likely be unable to comprehend exactly what it is that you’re telling him until he gets past his emotions.

A good way to keep from getting emotional yourself when you have something serious to relay is by taking regular breaks during the conversation itself, allowing both of you time to get back on track when continuing discussion after some time apart.

Also, never sugarcoat. The clearer your message, the easier it is to understand and accept.

  • Offer some form of apology

It’s always polite to be apologetic when relaying bad news. It may be hard for some people to own up to mistakes, especially if it’s outside their control, but it’s important to both be empathetic and to be responsible for one’s actions (this is applicable if you have something to do with the bad news).

Offering an apology will help the other person accept the bad news and move on from it. It also shows that you care.

  • Offer alternatives and solutions

As you deliver the bad news, remember that it’s not enough to just be empathetic and understanding. You have the chance to help the other person feel a little better about their situation by guiding them to view everything from a different perspective, or perhaps even from a positive angle if at all possible.

You can also go above and beyond by sharing hopeful words or important insights before ending with an offer of advice aimed at helping them arrive at their goals.

Acknowledge the person’s feelings

No matter what the bad news is, the recipient will feel strong emotions ranging from sadness to anger. They may also let go of some offensive words because of the situation.

Never take anything personally and understand that the unwelcome news is the cause of their reaction. So if you find the receiver getting angry at you even though you have nothing to do with the news, it only means the other person is venting their frustration.

Keep a positive attitude and don’t be offended if you experience negative reactions from the recipient. Validate their feelings and be empathetic. Remember that if you’re genuine, sincere and honest, they will ultimately appreciate the care in which you delivered a difficult message.

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