Bad News Guide; What to Do and Say
As the Sticky situation blogger, I regularly receive emails asking me how to react to the announcement of sad, and even bad news.
In our daily lives, from work to the community and even within our very own family, we regularly receive news that may make us uncomfortable and will at times, leave us speechless and paralyzed.
To enlighten you, and hopefully prepare you for what to say and do, here are some suggestions for the most common difficult sticky situations.
The most important thing to remember is that it is not about you, it is about them. Show empathy. Listen. Let the news-bearer talk, share his sorrow, anger or whatever emotion. Don’t add comments, and don’t judge their emotions. Avoid ‘upping’ the misery with horror stories that do not end well.
Separation or divorce
Warning: This announcement may be a happy or sad event.
“Thank you for sharing the news. I hope everything goes well for you.”
- Don’t criticize the ex. They may come back together or it may create resentment for you not having shared your feelings earlier. Either way, it is not helpful.
- Do continue to include the newly single person in your usual activities.
- Do offer to babysit or take the children to an activity.
“I’m so sorry.” Do not add clichés like: “Nature does things best.”
“I’m really sorry. I’m sure your talents and your experience will serve and be appreciated elsewhere.”
- Do forward ads for positions that match expertise, education and skills.
- Do offer to help with the résumé.
- Do offer to practice interview questions in a role play format.
Serious illness, including cancer
“I’m here for you, to listen to you, to help and accompany you.”It is important to remain faithful to your relationship. Continue to act, interact and talk the same way you did before the announcement, while being sensitive to the limitations of the illness. The person is the same. He or she has not changed and wants to maintain his identity without being labelled sick.
Do offer to:
- Prepare a meal or dessert, frozen or ready to serve.
- Shop and run errands from the groceries to the cleaner or driving the children to their activities.
- Accompany the person to medical appointments.
- Do activities with the children.
- Break the news to other networks, such as work colleagues.
The possibilities are as varied as the needs, be attentive and ask before acting.
Before visiting, even during phone calls, always ask if this is a good time. Do not expect return calls. Emails are preferable. Thus, the person will read and reply when it suits him. This is also a good opportunity to send cards, notes or photos by mail.
For visits, do
- Call before visiting.
- Stay 45 minutes or less.
- Offer: a game for the family, magazines or combo movie gift certificate for the family.
Beware: Flowers may not be ideal due to allergies, or the sense of smell that may be altered during certain treatments.
“I’m really sorry. I am thinking of you, including you in my prayers (if appropriate).” Avoid clichés like: “It’s for the best.”Ideally, offer your condolences in person or at the funeral home. If this is not possible, send a card in the mail. Sending an email could be appropriate if, you received the announcement via email or if you know the person checks his email regularly.
Respect the family’s request for flowers or charitable donations.
Do offer to help with:
- Informing certain networks and the process of thank you cards
Etiquette-savvy attention: in your condolence card, write “it is not necessary to acknowledge receipt of this card.” This will lighten the strain of the thank you note obligation for the newly in mourning person.
In conclusion, observe the actions of the news sharer. Non-verbal language is much more revealing than words. And most importantly, always ask before you act. Soothing possibilities are varied. They are not one size fits all. Better validate than to hurt the other’s feelings and further increase their suffering.