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July 1

How to Deliver Bad News-Four Powerful Practices



How to Deliver Bad News-Four Powerful Practices


In this article, I want to go into a little more difficult topic, how to deliver bad news.  I will share with you four key practices that will show you how to deliver bad news while keeping your own emotional sanity.

Consider two possible scenarios. In scenario number one, you have to deliver bad news about you or your family to someone else. For example, you have to tell a friend that you have cancer, or maybe you have to tell your parents that you miscarried a pregnancy, both bad situations and bad news. It’s happening to you, but you have to deliver the bad news to somebody else.

In the second scenario, you have to deliver the bad news to someone else about something bad that’s happening to them. You have to tell a friend that her daughter has died in a car accident, a horrific situation, or perhaps you’re a doctor or a physician that has to tell a patient he has cancer.

The Delivery of Bad News Is Deeply Emotional

In each of these situations, the secret to delivering bad news is understanding that this is a deeply emotional experience for both you and the recipient. Emotional mastery is the key to delivering bad news in a way that is compassionate and graceful. How to Honor Your Emotions With This 1 Powerful Tool

Practice #1- Write Out The Recipient’s Probable Emotions Before You Deliver Bad News

So here’s the first practice. Write out all of the emotions the recipient will probably experience upon hearing the bad news. And you actually want to do this with a piece of paper and a pen. You don’t want to type it out. Do this well before you deliver bad news.

The emotions could be shock, surprise, sadness, grief, fear, anxiety, despair, a sense of loss, loneliness. Write out all these emotions. There may be other emotions that you can think of that might come up when you have to deliver bad news. Write them all out in as much detail as you possibly can.

If you’re at a loss for emotional vocabulary, go out to Google and just type in emotional vocabulary and you’ll findpractice aids that will give you a whole bunch of words that you can utilize in creating your list.

deliver bad news

Practice #2: Deliver Bad News In Two Steps

Practice number two: give the bad news in two steps. This is pretty much universal advice, and I agree with it. First of all, provide a warning to get people prepared. So you might some say something like, “I’ve got some bad news to tell you,” and prepare them for the shock.

And then, step two, deliver the bad news concisely. Be truthful, but be concise. If it’s complicated information,  give it slowly so that people have time to digest it and process it. How To Have A Relationship Without Arguments or Fights-3 Amazing Steps To Take Now


Most importantly, just get right to the heart of the matter and don’t pussyfoot around. Just give the bad news as concisely as you can.

Practice #3: Create Emotional Safety After Delivering Bad News

That leads us to practice number three: create emotional safety by remaining silent. Be self-aware of your own personal anxiety or discomfort, because you will feel anxiety and discomfort at delivering bad news.

Feel your anxiety anxiety, but do not react to it. Give the recipient space to process and talk. The most important thing you can do at this point in time is listen to and reflect back the emotions of the recipient.

You will say things like, “You’re shocked and surprised. You’re stunned. You’re anxious and scared. You’re sad. You’re devastated. You feel overwhelmed. You feel lost and alone.” Most importantly, do not try to fix, problem-solve, dismiss, or rationalize the other person’s feelings. You’ll only make things worse if you do this.

And more importantly, do not offer sympathy. Sympathy is a really poor way to deliver bad news.

Don’t use I statements. Avoid saying things like this, “I’m sorry to tell you this, but,” or “I can see that you are really upset,” or “I’m so sorry to have to tell you this.” I don’t want you to feel bad.” Do not make the delivery of bad news about you. It’s all about reframing the bad news and the recipient’s emotions of the from the recipient’s frame of reference.

Practice #4 Manage Your Own Emotions As You Deliver Bad News

Using the list you created in practice number one, label each of your emotions when delivering bad news.

So you would say to yourself, “Oh, look, I’m experiencing sadness. I feel inadequate. I feel powerless. I’m resentful. I’m frustrated. I’m anxious.” Observe how your emotions calm down as you label them inside yourself.

Be aware of your need to soothe your own anxiety. Do not counsel, advise, or problem-solve until the emotions have calmed down. Do not emotionally invalidate yourself or the other person.Avoid trite phrases like, “It’s God’s way,” or “Every cloud has a silver lining,” or “You know, it’s bad karma.”

In summary, to deliver bad news, think ahead about the recipient’s emotions. Warn, then deliver. Create emotional safety by reflecting back the recipient’s strong emotions. Manage your own emotions. And don’t engage in self-soothing behaviors to reduce your own anxiety. That will only make things worse.

Sign up for the Basic Emotional Competency course at

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About the Author

Douglas E. Noll, JD, MA left a successful career as a trial lawyer to become a peacemaker. His calling is to serve humanity, and he executes his calling at many levels. He is an award-winning author, speaker, teacher, and trainer. He is a highly experienced mediator. Doug’s work carries him from international work to helping people resolve deep interpersonal and ideological conflicts.


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