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How to Be A Bearer of Bad News Without Triggering People

Female friends supporting each other.

“Don’t shoot the messenger” is a powerful phrase that most people have heard and many have used. Sometimes people don’t react well when they get bad news. The bigger the shock, the more likely it is for feelings to be hurt. As a result, it’s common for people to shy away from sharing bad news. 

When I get bad news I try to be grateful. I want to know what’s going wrong in my life as soon as possible so I can address the issues and make things better. People who are good at delivering bad news to me are very valuable. I do my best to let them know how much I appreciate their honesty and candor.

There is a select group of people who can tell you bad news and make it sound like they did you a favor. It’s not a trick, and they’re not lying to you, so what’s the difference? 

 People who use what I call the 3 ‘P’s to help deliver bad news are more likely to have positive experiences. Keep reading to find out what the 3 Ps are and how they can help you communicate difficult news in ways that leave people feeling good.

Compassion is the Foundation

Developing your ability to be compassionate and learning how to show it well is extremely valuable. When you put yourself in other people’s shoes it is easier to understand them and can help you find the right things to say.  

Compassion is Natural. So Why is It So Hard For Us? – Big Think

Take some time out in advance to consider your best line of approach. I like to build my message around a three-part model, where you start out with some good news, then the difficult message, followed up with more good news. There’s always something you can do to make a bad situation a little better.

When you learn how to be compassionate with yourself, you will be better able to behave compassionately towards others.  

There are many ways to do this, but many people have found success when they start with their physical and emotional health. Ensure that you get enough sleep and exercise and practice good mental hygiene. Take a look at your diet and see if there are any easy changes you can make to improve your health. When you’re stomach is happy with you, it’s a lot easier for you to project warmth and kindness.

If you find it hard to reduce anxiety, there are many resources available to make it easier. Getting more sunshine is one of my favorites. One simple solution is to try gravity blankets. A little additional weight on you when you are sleeping can help you feel grounded and safe and can improve your quality of sleep. It may sound like a simple fix but for some people, it’s a huge relief. 

Sometimes just sharing a token of concern can make a huge difference. Show the people around you that you love and respect them. Take the time out to really listen. The more you practice the art of listening, the better people will react when there is bad news.  

Use Personal Effects that Emphasize Togetherness and Kindness

The personal touch you use can go a long way towards making things better. When bad news comes our way it’s hard to not assume the worst. There are a lot of little things you can do to help others avoid falling into this trap.

Man comforting his wife while sitting together with a doctor.
We All Go Through Hard Times, And When They Are over we are stronger and wiser (Image Source: Shutterstock)

Food and drink can help bad news go down easier. When you invite someone over for dinner or drinks it can soften the hard blows of bad news. You can even make it health-conscious by serving delicious low-calorie cocktails.

How you talk to someone is often more important than what you say. Talking a little slower and making pauses engenders trust. It can take a little longer to get your message across but will save you time in the long run. 

Offer your support and assistance. Remind them you’re a good friend and that much worse things could have happened (and maybe have happed). We all go through hard times, and when they are over we are stronger and wiser. It’s hard to be truly happy without having experienced life’s storms. The people who stick with you through the hard times prove they are loyal friends. This is how you make friends that last a lifetime. 

Some of the hardest conversations we have are with family members. The importance of being truthful and kind with your children cannot be overemphasized. Celebrating Parent’s Day is an opportunity to renew your family’s focus on each other. Developing these relationships makes it easier to have the hard conversations when they come. Vacations can also be a source of strength for yourself and your family. Going on a mindfulness retreat can help teach discipline and provide insight into important questions like ‘What is emotional wellness?’.

Be the Bearer of Bad News Everyone Loves

I have several friends who are really good at hard conversations. They are successful because they have developed their ability to listen closely and more fully understand what others are trying to say. They also focus on what I call the three ‘P’ questions: Is the problem permanent, pervasive, or personal?  

Is it Permanent?

If the problem isn’t a permanent issue, talk about a time when the current crisis will all be settled and done. Perhaps there are future plans and goals you can bring up. Make them the focus of the conversation, and talk about why planning for the future is important. Bringing up long term goals makes it easier to accept setbacks in the present. 

Couple discussing their relationship goals and plans.
Talk About Future Plans And Goals And Focus On Them (Image Source: Shutterstock)

Is it Pervasive?

Look at all the areas of the other person’s life that will not be affected. There is a great deal of meaning and purpose in everyone’s life, and most problems only affect a small portion of the total. When you remind them of these other areas, it helps bring the problem into perspective.  It then becomes easier to reorient yourself and plan for the future. Bringing an issue down to size makes it easier to keep your spirits up.  

Is it Personal?

When unexpected problems arise it is common for people to act like it is a personal attack on them. The coronavirus epidemic has made some people think this way.

Take Advantage of Your Greatest Opportunity | Customer Complaints – Shep Hyken: Customer Service & CX Expert

Remembering that bad things aren’t personal can go a long way towards emotional recovery and can be a big part of learning how to stay motivated.

We can learn a lot about how smart businesses handle complaints. How they deal with problems determines how their customers feel about them in the future. Loyalty comes from going through hard times together and getting good results. Times like these are an opportunity for you to shine and show your worth.