How To Best Deliver Bad News
Dear Dr. LeCrone:
I have been given the responsibility of delivering some bad news to a friend and his family. I have always been at a loss for words in the aftermath of a crisis or tragedy. I seem to “freeze–up” and don’t know what to say. This makes me seem uncaring which is not the case. Could you give me some ideas on how to be a better messenger?
-A reader in Nebraska.
Determining the most humane, compassionate and effective way of communicating unfavorable announcements requires thought and planning. Not only does this planning help the receiver, but it also assists the bearer of bad tidings in dealing with his or her own feelings.
The following are some suggestions for those who must break bad news to others:
-Be sensitive and knowledgeable about the emotions that the receiver of bad news is going to experience. Shock, disbelief and numbness, followed by bargaining, anger and depression, are all normal stages in the grief and loss process.
-The individual receiving bad news may be so stunned that he misinterprets, completely denies and refuses to hear what is being said to him. The deliverer needs to be able to spend enough time during the communicating process to be sure the receiver understands and acknowledges receiving the unfortunate pronouncement.
-Be prepared to answer questions when possible, but don’t spend too much time going into details that the receiver of bad news may not be ready to hear.
-Let the other person know that you care and experience sorrow for him, but refrain from letting your own emotions make a tragic situation even more complicated.
-Be willing to offer follow-up suggestions of support, such as helping him contact other family members and making sure that he is capable of handling the crisis without being a danger to themselves or someone else. In general, be as supportive as your role will permit you to be in a situation.
-Don’t make the situation worse by offering unrealistic or untruthful statements that offer false hope.
-Don’t make statements like, “I know how you feel” or, “This hurts me as much as it does you.” Let your role be more of a sounding board and listener rather than a problem solver and fixer.
The manner in which bad tidings are delivered can make a difference in the way the receiver handles the tragedy. Knowing your role in the deliverance can be important
Copyright © 2006 Harold H. LeCrone, Jr., Ph.D.