15 Helpful Suggestions When Telling A Bad News In English

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At one point or another, you will experience delivering bad news to someone. Breaking negative news to a person is not easy because you would need to deliver an upsetting message that other people wouldn’t want to receive. Although you may opt not to be the person to deliver the bad news and may be tempted to avoid it, the truth is you must do it. Hence, learning how to communicate bad news with great care is an important skill that anyone can do. This will help you guide people to understand their situation and make it easier for them to accept such news. Provided below are the tips on how you will clearly and gracefully communicate bad news regardless of the situation.

1. Prepare the receiver about the bad news by using an opening statement

Receiving negative news can be difficult to take in, especially if it’s unexpected. Although you may want to tell the bad news right away, consider that the bad news recipient may need to brace and condition himself first. Giving someone a hint before breaking the unpleasant news would help prepare the other person for what you are about to say. 

Useful phrases

“I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news…”

“We regret to inform you that..”

“I’m really sorry to have to say this but..”

2. Provide background information about the bad news

Telling about the background information will help the receiver understand the bad news better. Explain the context by answering the questions of what, who, when, where, and how. Include the reasons since the recipient of the bad news will be curious about this as well. It will also help if you tell how the bad news might affect them. Make sure that you provide the important details that the other person needs to know as he deserves to know and understand his involvement in the situation

Useful phrases:

“Unfortunately, there are some problems with…”

“Due to…”

“Because of…”

3. State facts and be concise

When telling bad news, stick to the facts. Refrain from including unnecessary details nor any excuses. As he is presented with facts, he sees the logic and understands it better. The last thing he needs is unnecessary details that makes the bad news harder to comprehend. Aim to be concise when telling an unwelcome message. Although you may tend to talk more when the situation gets awkward, refrain from doing so to allow the other person to process what he just heard. If you are going to add details that are not needed, it may prevent or delay him from focusing on what’s more important as he also has to process other details you are presenting to him. Only say what is needed to be concise and avoid any confusion. 

4. Be objective and avoid blaming others

When bad events happen, it may be tempting to find a person to blame. However, as a deliverer of the negative news, how you communicate can influence how the message will be interpreted. Refrain from blaming others, especially if you are uncertain. Your goal must be to deliver objective news, not a biased one. Adding your opinion will also add color to the message. Remember that it is not about you nor your subjective perspective. The recipient of the negative news needed unbiased details. When telling bad news, target to just relaying it without including any judgment, nor any assumptions. Just simply state what you know to be true.

5. Organize your narrative

Before you deliver bad news, it’s important to gauge how prepared the recipient is and how much he can take. While it is tempting to tell right away, you need to prepare them properly as people have different ways of accepting unpleasant news. Be gentle and suit your narrative on how prepared you think the recipient is ready to take. Share information in an organized way to help them understand it well.

6. Do not sugarcoat

Although unpleasant news is more acceptable when sugar-coated, it is still best not to disguise it nor minimize its emotions. Simply relay the message in an on-point honest approach. The clearer your message, the better the recipient will comprehend it. The deeper his understanding is, the more appropriate and immediate his actions will be in addressing his situation. 

7. Use positive language

Your choice of words is important in delivering unwanted news as it can also influence how the recipient will perceive it. Positive language contributes to the feel and understanding of your message. It prevents making the bad news from sounding too bad as it softens the message, thus reducing the anxiety caused by the negative news. As the recipient is calmer, he would be able to comprehend better the unwelcome news. Just be sure that you are still clear on what you should tell when you use positive language. To use positive language, select your words carefully. Avoid negative words that create a negative impression and feeling. Refrain from mentioning the obvious that the negative news is bad, as it will only suggest how bad he should feel about the message. 

8.  Use empathetic statements

Refrain from making assumptions about how the recipient of your message would be feeling. People have different ways of reacting and accepting negative news. Consider the emotional reaction of the recipient and be more sympathetic. Let the recipient know that you are aware of and respect his emotions and understand his pain. 

Useful phrases:

“I can see that you’re really upset and angry…”

“I can see why you might think that…”

“I can see why you might feel that way.”

9. Express some apology for the failure

It may be difficult to own up to an unintended mistake, though, it is important to accept responsibility. Acknowledging a mistake and apologizing can help others to move on.  Whether you are just delivering the unwelcome news, having a role in causing the negative event, or just representing an organization but did not directly make a mistake, it would still help express apology. It doesn’t mean you are liable or guilty, but it shows that you care and feel sorry that the events are not better. 

Useful expression:

“Please accept my apologies for any inconvenience this has caused.”

“Sorry, I couldn’t be (of) more help.”

“We sincerely apologize for the outcome.”

10. Offer possible alternatives, solutions, or hope

Once you can tell the negative news, you might think that your responsibility is already fulfilled. While this is true, there is still something else that you can do to make your bad news delivery better. The messages you will say next after the negative news are also important because they can influence how the recipient feels confused, lost, hanging, uncertain, or in despair. Help the recipient to rationalize his situation. Guide him to look at a different perspective to make him feel a bit better. You can also encourage the other person to stay positive by sharing your hope in their situation. Just remember, though, that if you are going to express some positive thoughts, you will remain sensitive to their needs and not go overboard. Aside from highlighting the positive side and giving hope, you can also offer an alternative strategy. This will enable the other person to realize that his situation is not the end, and there is still something that he can do. 

Useful phrases:

“Would you consider an alternative solution like…?”

“Although the result may not be what we expected, it may be better on our next try.”

“The good thing about this is that we can still..”

11. Provide further details by answering  questions

Although you may have provided the essential details you think the other person needs, he might still have questions to ask. The recipient might have a hard time absorbing everything you say at the moment he hears it. He may have to ask you repeatedly to verify that he has heard and understood the negative news correctly. After repeatedly confirming and getting more details, the unpleasant news would finally sink into him. Answer patiently, even when you are being asked redundant questions. Meanwhile, if you don’t answer some of his queries, be honest, and tell him you don’t know. 

12. Listen

After you speak, encourage the other person to express his concern and emotions. Listen and demonstrate that you are listening by focusing on him, answering with “hmmm…”, “yes..”, “I see”,  or simply nodding your head. By listening to the other person, he will somehow feel relieved that he could express his pain. You will also have an idea of how he is taking the bad news and figure out if there are other ways you can say to encourage him or assist him in his situation. 

13. Deal with silence appropriately

A possible response after hearing a piece of upsetting news will be to remain quiet out of shock. The other person couldn’t ask questions or respond immediately as it takes time to let the bad news sink in. In these instances, be comfortable with silence and let it be your communication for a moment. You can also express your care or response through gestures like patting his hand. Just make sure that your gesture is culturally and socially appropriate. 

14. Acknowledge other people’s feelings

As you deliver the bad news, the recipient might feel emotions like being angry and sad. He may also utter offensive words not because he is upset with you but because he is angry about his situation. Don’t take it personally because he is actually just reacting to the bad news he heard for the first time. Since you are the bearer of the unwelcome news, the other person can take out his frustration on you even if the bad news you deliver is not your fault. Maintain a positive attitude and don’t be perplexed or offended if the recipient responded with criticism or sarcasm. Respond well to the other person’s reaction by acknowledging and validating it. 

Useful phrases:

“I understand why you’re feeling that way…”

“I see your point…”

15. Wrap up your message well

When you are about to end delivering the bad news, refrain from mentioning another negative news. Also, don’t end it abruptly and make the other person feel left hanging. Try to end it politely with a hopeful and positive tone.

Useful expressions:

“Thank you in advance for your understanding.”

“I hope everything will get better soon.”

Conclusion

Breaking bad news may not be an easy task but certainly, an important thing to do. It may help more than you know as it can prevent situations from getting worse and enable others to prepare. Following the suggestions above will assist you in delivering bad news clearly. Coupled with the right timing and appropriate manner of delivery, you will be able to effectively communicate unpleasant news gracefully. 

 

Learn more useful expressions and ways to deliver bad news in English by enrolling in our courses. Take advantage of our 2 free trial classes today. 

 

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Kaycie Gayle is a freelance content writer and a digital publisher. Her writings are mostly about, travel, culture, people, food, and communication.