How To Gently Break Bad News To Family And Friends
Job losses, divorces, and illnesses are parts of life. However, it isn’t pleasant facing these realities. You need support — and to break the news to those you hold most dear.
However, it isn’t easy to tell those you love the most that their worlds have irrevocably changed. The process is often teary, sometimes confrontational. You need a plan. Here’s how to break bad news to family and friends gently.
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Process your emotions
First, recognize that you won’t be in the best mental frame after finding out your spouse wants a divorce or you have a chronic illness for which no cure exists. Various strong emotions erupt inside you. You might get angry and rage or dissociate, feeling like everything is unreal and the bad event is happening to someone else. Some people feel paralyzed, while others fly into a panic. Your brain freezes when you receive an emotional shock. Please remember, you have a right to process your feelings privately — there’s no obligation to talk to anyone until you feel ready. If possible, wait until clarity returns, perhaps telling loved ones you need a little time alone. Those who love you most will understand, although they may express concern.
Decide who to tell and how much
After the initial shock subsides, you must put on your rationality hat. Who genuinely needs to know your bad news? It may be far fewer people than you think — proceed with extreme caution to prevent giving anyone who is secretly not on your side ammunition. For example, your first instinct might be to approach your boss if you receive a diagnosis that may impact your working ability. However, think twice: you don’t want to establish the expectation that you can’t do it — adversity adds a layer of empathy that transforms many people into more valuable employees.
Furthermore, the problem compounds if you have an invisible illness. Workplace bullies exist, and they may decide to make your life miserable if they deem the boss is giving you special favors like allowing you to continue to telecommute when everyone else has to return to the office. If you must share, tell only select people privately. You should likely tell your spouse or partner unless you’re amid an acrimonious divorce. Your children will also need to know — but keep things age-appropriate.
For example, while you may need to tell your youngest that you’re seeking work, keeping economic fears to yourself is best. However, you might want to sit down with older children, review your new budget and explain why there isn’t as much left for luxuries like new shoes. Keeping them in the dark will only create unnecessary anxiety when you start saying “no” to purchases you formerly okayed. If you and your partner decide to divorce, telling the kids together is best instead of leaving it to one party to break the news. However, if violence or abuse exists, do what’s right to protect everyone’s safety, even if that means fleeing and answering questions later.
Set a quiet time to talk
Your family reunion probably isn’t the best place to spill unhappy news. Nor is your sister’s baby shower. Once you identify who needs to know, set a quiet, private time for your chat. Pick a time when you both feel unhurried — you don’t want to downplay their concerns or rush through their questions. The more secluded the location, the better. Your home is probably better than a public space like a café.
Answer as many questions as you can
Your loved ones might have many questions about how things will change and how your news affects them. For example, your partner and children will care about your health first and foremost — but they may also have legitimate concerns about how to pay the bills if your prognosis looks grim.
Try to answer as many questions as possible by preparing and learning what you can before sharing your news. What you can’t answer, you can brainstorm and research together — let them play an active role in planning the future. Allowing them to contribute eases their anxiety and creates a sense of agency, that their choices and actions can help determine the best possible outcome given the circumstances.
Prepare for the aftermath
Breaking bad news to family and friends leads to heartache no matter how gently you phrase things. Before you chat, brace yourself for the emotional fallout. For example, some people explode into defensive anger to protect themselves, often feeling embarrassed about their behavior after the initial shock subsides. Let them vent, and then try to talk constructively once they’re calm. If they remain agitated, you may wish to schedule another time to talk after they’ve regained control.
Other people might feel confused or express legitimate fears. Nearly everyone resists change, particularly that which upsets a formerly happy routine. Listen with compassion to what they fear losing and try to brainstorm productive ways to a brighter tomorrow despite the current hardship.
Breaking bad news to family and friends
It’s never easy to break bad news to family and friends. You need their support, but admitting you lost your job or received a terrifying diagnosis can rattle the heartiest souls. Follow the guide above to break bad news to family and friends gently. Together, you can weather this storm.
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