Delivering Bad News Sensitively

Life is almost all about psychology i.e. the psyche. Is that fair? It’s just that I find that relationships and communication–the crux of life–reveal this all the time. Life is all about people and how we interact with each other, within the context of the stimuli and responses of our internal and external worlds.

We’d like to be ‘nice’ with people and effective in all our relationships, but that’s not the way of life is it?–it’s not always possible. With so many divergent priorities, goals, tasks and consequences in life we inevitably have to break bad news at some point or other.

This disappoints people. And there are some people we naturally don’t like to disappoint. (In fact, like many people, I don’t like disappointing anyone.)  Is there a way we can do this and soften the blow? I’ve found the following method helpful. 

First, I pray. So–what’s that? I find that thinking about what I have to say and visualising how I’ll say it and how the person might respond, whilst asking for God’s help, gives me unique insight that often helps me remain sensitive so I can hopefully avoid hurting the person’s feelings. More details please

Second, I try to say what I need to say concisely and with empathy and then just leave them with it. It’s always helpful for people to be free to react emotionally without having the burden of fighting what they’re feeling i.e. anger, confusion, embarrassment etc with us still present. People crowding can complicate things.

If it is obvious that staying to support would help, then stay, but just ‘sit Shiva’–a Jewish term of mourning for the dead by giving silent but encouraging support i.e. it’s just being there present with them.

Thirdly, given some time to adjust, people can then learn to cope with the new, unwelcome reality in their own way–there’s less pressure. When breaking bad news it’s always a good thing to give people time (hours to weeks) to adjust.

It’s amazing how resilient the average person is when given this opportunity i.e. the time to adjust. Most people can cope really quite well with an unpleasant reality provided they have the time to adjust their mental and emotional stance.

But it never gets easier does it. That’s the wonderful, awful, entrancing power of the psyche that we can’t escape; that’s central to life.

Acceptance of an undesirable reality is often a journey and not merely a destination.

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham.  All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

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