As We Move Forward: Handling Bad News

Getting Bad News

We have all dealt with bad news in our lives. Bad news might be described as the report of an unhappy recent event—to an unwanted or undesirable individual or circumstance. That pretty much describes anything that goes against what we would like to have happened. As children, being told we have to eat all the food on our plate, including the spinach, could be considered bad news. The same thing could be said about being told we have to pick up our room, take a bath or go to bed before we are ready.

It would certainly be bad news to have an older, bigger kid threaten you with harm if you did not do exactly what he wanted, like giving him your lunch money every day in exchange for not beating you up. Even though schools have a zero tolerance policy toward bullying, reports indicate that kids receive bad news from bullies regularly.

Bad news does not always involve threats or violence. Learning that your best friend is moving away would certainly be considered bad news. It would also be bad news to get a bad grade on a test or to learn you were not chosen for a team or did not receive a part in a play you had tried out for.

Several things these examples have in common is the fact that they may be traumatic, but they would probably not be considered life-threatening. They might, however, be life altering depending on hoe seriously they impacted the people involved. The way we respond to bad news has a lot to with how we feel about ourselves and our place in the world. There are a number of aspects to the transmission of bad news. We think primarily of the recipient of the news, and that is certainly an important part of the transmission of bad news. One thing we tend not to take into consideration is the person giving the bad news.

I have had the experience of being with several people during their death. There is probably nothing more traumatic than getting word of the death of a lived one, especially if that death is unexpected. I have accompanied a police officer to inform a family of the tragic accident that took the life of a husband/father. I don’t think I will ever forget the scene when they opened the door. Seeing me with the officer confirmed what they had feared.

II have never been fired from a job, and for more than forty years I never had to deal directly with the issue of job termination. I now know first hand what it is like to tell someone their employment is ended. Although each time this happens, it is following a deliberate attempt to solve the problem before taking this action, I have never spoken these words without a deep sense of sadness over the changes this would cause in this person’s life. Giving bad news can be as traumatic in its own way as receiving bad news. There are consequences whenever bad news is delivered.


As we move forward, let’s remember that bad news is given and received even in the midst of a crisis. The crisis may increase the impact of the bad news. It can be like trying to run with a leg injury. Emotions brought on by the crisis may affect the giver and the receiver of bad news in ways that would not happen if the individuals involved were not in crisis.

As we move forward, we might want to ask how the crisis we are experiencing is affecting us and those around us as we both receive and have to deliver bad news. If we can separate the crisis from the bad news, we may be better able to handle the bad news.

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