“Bad news” can be somewhat of a misnomer at times — often situations that appear negative on the surface reveal silver linings and eventually result in positive changes. But the fact remains that it’s not fun to be the bearer of news nobody wants to hear.
Here’s how to make this painful task easier:
1) Break the news in private. This protects the other person’s dignity and spares them from embarrassment.
2) Ignore #1 if you are dealing with a potentially volatile person. In this case, delivering bad news in public, preferably in a high-energy, crowded location like a coffee shop or hotel lobby, may ensure an extra measure of self-consciousness that might keep him or her from flying off the handle and shouting or reacting physically.
3) Get right to the point, but issue a heads-up first: I’m sorry to say that I have some bad news to deliver today.
4) Deliver the news succinctly. Don’t pretend it’s not bad news, and don’t point out the silver lining. Don’t prattle on and on. Don’t blame them or tell them they should have seen it coming. Say your piece as objectively as you can, then become quietly attentive and allow them to speak if they wish.
5) It’s okay to say you are sorry if you are. “I’m sorry” does not mean that whatever happened is your fault, it’s simply an expression of sympathy. Avoid “I understand” because it’s impossible for us to truly comprehend anyone else’s personal experience. Even if we went through the exact same situation, our individual reactions are unique.
5) Answer their questions concisely. Save detailed analysis and explanation for another conversation. People don’t tend to remember much of what they’ve heard while in shock.
6) Give them time and space to process the news privately. Don’t hit and run, however. Let them know you’ll connect with them again later.
7) Initiate contact again in a few hours or a few days. Make yourself available (but don’t be intrusive) in case they want to talk about it.