Getting or Giving Bad News Without Fear

Slalom skier

Image via Wikipedia

I was reading an article on awareness of obesity the other day telling us that many times, people don’t know they are obese until they are told by someone else.  Ouch.  Pass the Band-Aides.  But it aired our need to stay connected, speak up, and listen.  It also prompted me to reflect on mental illness.  How often I’ve sat with someone’s emotions-history in my hands, looked at them and realized they didn’t know.  They were there, emotions bleeding all over the place but didn’t grasp their injury.

Um, excuse me ma’am.  Let’s apply some pressure on that and get you some help.

Bloody news like this reminds me of my friend Jack.  He was waterskiing with my brother and I when we were college’ish-age.  Jack was not so capable on the water, although he wasn’t afraid.  As you probably know, three is the perfect number for waterskiing – one to drive, one to hold the flag when the skier is setting himself up, and then of course the skier.  Any more and there are way too many polite smiles and way too much advice for the bobbing body in the water.  Jack was working on his slalom moves, thrilled with his progress and after about the third fall, was still ready for another go.

Hit it!

Our boat, Rosewater, eased him out of the water and he was up.  Jack has a way of celebrating like no other.  He whoops and yells and his whole body joins in.  And so he was in his happy place, up on a single ski, unconcerned with the world at large.  It was lovely.  Until the wake of that other huge boat threw him down and his face slammed into his spectacular single ski.  Up he came and we just looked at him, quietly at first.  Jack paddled up to the boat and wondered if he should try again.

Um, sorry Jack.  Let’s apply some pressure on that and get you some help.

Jack had a huge gash, copiously bleeding all over his face and he had no idea.  He was wet already, cold from the water and didn’t feel a thing.  I still feel the creepies skittering up my arms and chest thinking about it.

When we told Jack, he was a little unbelieving.

Are you sure?  Is it bad?  I think I’m alright.  It’ll wash out and I can try again….

Oh there wasn’t much pleasure in telling him the bloody news.  Generally there isn’t that much pleasure in telling someone they are fat or suffering from mental illness either.  It’s the follow-up to that statement where the fun comes in.  The hope that we link the first punch-line to.  Good news is, …along comes the second punch-line.  Hope.  And presence.  Being with someone where they are at, as they are, and with patience doesn’t mean leaving him in the dark, bleeding out.

The reverse is true of course as well.  If we don’t stay connected with others, we may lose the opportunity to see ourselves through their eyes.  It is an opportunity.  When we are with someone we trust, respect and think see’s us as the precious thing that we are, it is.

Self-Care Tip #195 – Stay connected with others and listen without fear – something good is coming.  Be a friend to yourself.

Questions:  How do you deliver “bad news?”  What is the best way you’ve ever been given “bad news?”  Please tell me your story.

19 thoughts on “Getting or Giving Bad News Without Fear

  1. In high school, we had a girl with bad BO. None of us wanted to tell her, but we all felt very badly for her. Eventually we drew straws and I was so relieved I didn’t get to have to tell her. She was absolutely mortified and immediately developed a life-long hatred of the girl who told her.

  2. Hmmm…can’t think of anything good about hearing of bad new, but have seen some blessings occure in bleak situations, such as reconcilliation between those estranged.

    • sometimes it’s really hard to remember and/or connect these things. i hear u on the reconciliation thing though suzicate. can’t say enough about the coming together part of anything. hope u r good and know u r not alone in your own journey of courage. keep on lady-friend.

  3. Thanks Caoch Q….. I liked that post for several reasons. Only one of which is — you in a bathing suit. Furthermore, I can really relate this post. Throughout my youth, a group of friend and I spent long summers water skiing every day. Somehow, it was always I with the bleeding gash or broken nose… Each time, I found myself in an emergency room wishing I had come there sooner and a bunch of friend who seemed enthusiastic earlier…. all saying “I Told you so….”

    As for delivering bad news…. It is rarely possible to make bad new goos…. but I think we all do it to some degrees. For example, “Your great, great, step cousin has just died, He lived a wonderful life and seemed very content when he left us.” Just a thought I learned from my four year old when I told him his great grandmother had died…. I expected sadness… he responded with “that’s really good because she was really old and not doing too well here. Now she is with God and having a lot of fun”

    • priceless (although often inappropriate) rick. good to have u back. we’ve all missed u, despite yourself. it’s been days since u tagged in.
      your son is wizened beyond his years. please listen to him as often as possible. we’re all behind him.

  4. just get it out be truthfull and hounest dont beat about the bush short sharp shock you will feel better yourself as well i allways remeber when my dad died and my mam had to tell me she had a friend with her and she beated about the bush just tell me i can then deal with it you can allwyas tell when something is wrong i tihnk beating around the bush makes it worse

  5. I try to relate the news I am giving to myself. For instance, I might say “the same thing has happened to me,” or “a friend of mine once had that happen to her.” I feel like if you can relate to the person with the news you are telling them, then the news doesn’t hurt as bad or is not as embarrassing. Then the two of you can talk about your experiences and work through it together.

  6. I would have to also agree that in some cases bad news can bring family members, or even friends together that have been estranged. This has personally happened to me. Kind of a bittersweet thing; good in result of something bad and mending a broken relationship.

    • good comes out of bad. When my 9y/o love and adored niece suddenly died, i didn’t see that. it’s taken almost 6yrs to see what God could do w this unbelievable loss we grieve every moment. The bad doesn’t disappear but it is not a qualifier for the rest of life’s potential. big hug and thanks for this comment.

  7. Depends on what kind of “bad news” it is. Being told I’m obese (fat, heavy, whatever) hurts for a long time. Being told I just took my face off sledding down a hill on ice (the sled had long since gone out from under me) was as un-real to me as your news was to your friend. Being told a loved one has been hurt or has died absolutely terrifies me. Telling others such things is about the same; I’d probably avoid anything about personal habits or appearances; I’d do everything I could to help whoever was hurt (and I have, as both a camp director and a teacher); I’ve thought about what I’d say if a loved one was dying or had died, but so far, other than my children’s grandparents, I haven’t had to deliver that kind of news.

    I’m a worrier. Bad news scares me…no matter what it is or who or how it’s delivered. What if I say the wrong thing…or say it the wrong way? Would I still be liked…or respected? I’m old enough that that kind of thing shouldn’t bother me, but there you are………

    • is there really a number to when fear is appropriate dear nancy? i hv a hunch that your talent of preparing for the possibilities of the future is part of your temperament. i like those wires in u and suspect many others do to. keep on.

  8. I especially like the follow-up to the punch line – hope and presence. I think those should be requirements of the person giving the bad news. If they believe in their friend, hope brightly, and will be present-supportive for the aftermath, they may be qualified.
    I’ve learned a bit from my Oncologist friends and favorite authors about delivering bad news. I have to do it everyday at work. I can prognosticate well by the interaction.
    Can we share recipes here?! In the family for years, kinds of recipes!
    1. Ask about how they’re doing and listen. Get your eyes level with theirs and use a word or two from their last sentance in your response.
    2. Discovery your friend perspective-insight into the subject. Listen relaxed and incorporate it into your understanding.
    —- deliver the news clearly, gently, simply without pressure
    3. Legitimize emotions. Don’t adopt them.
    4. Expect your friend to eventually gain insight. Gaining insight is wonderful – tell them.
    5. Hope is the best drug to beat pain and rejection – offer a couple shots and sip it with your friend.

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