How to give bad news? 12 emotional keys
The bad news almost always causes discomfort, both for the person receiving it and the person giving it. Making a person aware of facts that are going to make him/her feel bad can generate such a strong feeling of discomfort that it can lead to misunderstandings or generate additional problems.
Furthermore, if we believe we are not prepared to give this news, we may postpone this task indefinitely so as not to face the unwanted consequences of not knowing what to say, and this is something that will possibly affect negatively both the person who should be informed and other parties involved (for example, if we work in a hospital).
Therefore, in order to know how to deal with these situations it is convenient to have clear basic guidelines of behaviour. Below you can read some tips that will help you know how to give bad news .
Tips on how to give bad news
1. Stop and think if we are the right person to give it
This point is basic, since it is not appropriate to assume that we should be the ones to report the bad news . Think about the quality of what you could be the informant, if your professional role includes this type of actions (in case you are exercising a profession by contacting that person) and if there are no better alternatives.
2. Thinking about our own emotional state
In order to announce bad news, it is good to take into account as many variables as possible. Therefore, it is good to stop and reflect, even if only briefly, on the feelings that this news generates in us . This way we will gain some control over the situation, since we will know better the attitudes and thoughts around this news by one of the two agents that will be involved in the dialogue: we .
If we judge that we are too emotionally involved with the information we are going to give, we can consider going back to point 1 and thinking about other people to communicate the bad news.
3. Anticipating the other person’s reaction
Technically, this advice is not meant to deliver bad news correctly, but should be part of your brief pre-planning to expect certain behaviours and prepare possible solutions .
4. Choosing the right moment
When you give the bad news, it is important that the other person can give us their full attention and that they do not carry an intense emotional burden derived from the activities they have been doing recently. Therefore, if possible, choose well the moment when the other person is neither too stressed nor especially excited by any circumstance, as this could make the news have a greater emotional impact and that moment will be remembered as an even more unpleasant experience.
If it is not possible to choose a time in the short term future to inform the other person, make it clear from the beginning that you have something important to say: don’t start talking about something else .
5. Seek a calm and emotionally neutral context
In the line of the previous point, the context in which you are going to give the bad news should be undistracted and calm . This way, communication will be more fluid and there will be no environmental stressors. Choose a place that you have at hand, as you should direct the person towards it without giving him/her the news yet, just to make him/her follow you and anticipate the importance of what is going to happen.
6. Maintain some proximity to the person
Even if you don’t maintain a friendship with the interlocutor, it is good to be close when communicating the news . This way the person will feel more comfortable and you will be in a better position to help them if they need it. Also, make sure that there is no furniture separating you and that your eyes are more or less at the same height, so that no asymmetries of power are noticed between you.
You may be interested in: “Guide to emotional first aid”
7. Sit, both
This advice is more important the worse the news you want to give . Sitting down makes a large part of the body relax, which in turn makes it easier to pay attention and, on the other hand, can help remove some of the tension before and during the delivery of the news. In addition, if we adopt a relatively relaxed posture (without crossing our arms or legs and without slouching too much) it is very possible that the other person will tend to imitate us even without noticing it, so that they will also feel somewhat more relaxed.
On the other hand, when the other person is sitting n or will fall to the floor if he or she faints or feels that he or she is momentarily losing strength due to his or her mood .
8. Touch, don’t touch…
Unless we are someone very close to the other person, it is preferable not to touch them with your hand or arm just before giving them the news , as this could make them stress out very quickly and not be able to concentrate well on what we are saying. We can do this, if we think it is convenient, after we have communicated it, to comfort her.
9. Begin with the most important things, but don’t be too abrupt
It is fundamental that you start talking about the information you must give, without detours , since that will rarify the environment and will be incoherent with everything you have done before (actions that are focused on expressing the importance of that moment). However, it is preferable that a few seconds elapse between when you start talking and the moment when the worst part of the news is named , in order to gradually introduce the topic. That’s why it’s not good to summarize the news in a single newspaper headline.
Once you have said the important things, you can tell the details later if you think it is appropriate and the other person is willing to continue listening.
10. Use neutral language and give information objectively
What we are going to say is very important, so it is best not to “prefabricate” a point of view or a state of mind that we are going to impose on the other person . Giving bad news is something that makes sense because the other person needs to know relevant information and assimilate it in his own way.
In addition, giving the data along with our opinion or point of view can be a way of hiding things or giving biased information, even when we don’t realize it, usually offering a news story that is too optimistic.
11. Reformulate what happened, if possible
Once the important point has been made, we can offer a point of view that completes the previous information , opening up a more hopeful range of possibilities. However, it is very important to do this only if you are being realistic in setting out these expectations and you really believe in what you are saying.
Honesty and transparency are essential.
12. Do not get emotionally involved except to comfort the other person
When we give the news, we must look after the well-being of our interlocutor . That is why we should distance ourselves enough so that we do not have to exteriorize our own feelings and that the other person can manage his or her own.
This can be done, for example, by not reacting negatively if the other person blames us for what happened or gets angry with us for no reason .