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Old Adages for Modern Life


How to Handle Bad News

I have some Bad News for you, my Friend.

This will probably ruin your very day and I am Sorry for it, truly. Conveying bad news to another is almost as bad as receiving it. Almost, but not quite.

So I have some Advice on the matter, for Friends only.

First, if you must give someone Bad News, you should just Do It. Mucking about with “We need to talk” and “I think you should sit down,” just makes the whole affair worse. Building up to something Bad is never Good. Consider. If you prepare someone for some truly devastating news, having asked them to “Sit down first” is going to appear quite insensitive. You, the bearer of Bad News, should, of course, be prepared to catch the recipient if he/she receives the news Badly, but just tell them. “I am sorry to tell you that your father died this morning,” or “There’s been a collision and your spouse did not survive.” This is Extreme Bad News (unless the recipient did not like the person in question, in which case you’ve now become the bearer of Good News, but that is for another post) and nothing else said or done will change that. Just tell them.

But there’s another kind of Bad News, which is not so bad, and winding this up to be more than it is will make you look Foolish. I would hate for you to seem Foolish. So asking someone to “Sit down first” before a mediocre shock is also silly and you’ll get them expecting something grand and life changing which, “I just received 20% off my car insurance!” will not do for them.

Now, as for the situation in which you, my Friend, stand in as the recipient, here is some advice: If the news is concerning you, you’ll react however you will and you are Entitled to this. Moving past that, if the Bad News is about someone else, see my earlier post about How to Express Sympathy. If the Bad News is something general, such as, “Oh my, did you hear that ninety-seven Cashmere goats were killed in a freak skiing accident in Italy?” then you should, if you are female, put your fingers delicately on your lips and softly gasp, “Oh good gracious! What a tragedy!” or if you desire to be more masculine, you may spread your feet slightly, shake your head as you look down thoughtfully, and mutter, “Terrible thing, that.”

So there you go, Compadre, now you know how to handle Bad News.