Wednesday, November 18, 2015


“No one loves the messenger who brings bad news.”

The news is bad.

How do you tell it?

Do you jump right in, bluntly speaking words that will bring tears or utterly crush?

Do you arrange a supportive environment, preface the hard-to-bear news with soft words, serve a meal, perhaps offer a drink-- all preparatory measures designed to delay or soften the blow of hard words?

Do you muse for days, planning a speech, arranging your body to tell the news, while indicating support with your eyes,  your face, you hands?  How do you fix your eyes to share disappointments? How do you pose your face to say I know, I know, I know  as you bring down the hammer? What should your hands do to show I got you.

 Do you write and rewrite the email in your head?  Do you write seven drafts, deleting and starting over, each time striving to achieve the desired effect?

The last time it was my turn to deal the doom, I was physically sick and emotionally distraught for two weeks. I alternatively denied, delayed, and thought about how to dilute the news.
How could I completely avoid this task?

As much as we agonize about the time, the place, and the words, the bad news has to be told.

In the medical world where bad news must be routinely delivered, it is still not easy.  Examples of extensive and complex medical protocols for sharing bad news can be considered here and here and here.

The business world also plays by preordained rules for sharing bad news. See more on delivering bad news at work here.

But who wants to hear bad news?
Not only is it hard to deliver bad news.   It is equally difficult to be on the receiving end.

We all remember the Wicked Witch in the Wiz and her enthusiastic rendition of  Don't Nobody Bring Me No Bad News
Often times, we have no warning.  We don't believe what our ears have taken in. Our hearts sink and we try to return to the moment before the words were delivered.

But other times there are signs.
And we all we know the signs.

The friend who won't look us in the eye.
The conversation that comes to a halt when we enter the room  or the whispers that we can't quite hear.
The phone ringing late -- never good.

Certain  phrases put our ears and our hearts on instant alert.
We hear the ritual opening words on tell-all talk shows:

You know I love you, but...

I don't want to hurt you, however...

I know you don't want to hear this...

What follows these words is never good.  It is usually devastating at worst and disconcerting at the very least.
We brace ourselves to hear, yet not wanting the words to be uttered.

Like my reaction to delivering  bad news,  the moment we realize the next words we hear are not going to be pleasant, we may have a physical reaction as our bodies prepare to support and guard our hearts.

Sometimes we manage to find a drop of blessing in a downpour of negative news.

The news was bad, but there was this one good part.

This is the bad news, but the good news is....

These books for children  highlight this conflicting reality.

And finally, as we think about all the bad news scenarios, it is crucial to make certain that the news we are delivering is accurate.

We all remember Chicken Little (sometimes known as Henny Penny) and her the bad news-- her untrue news--that the sky was falling. She not only passed on this news to her friends and neighbors, but enlisted them to help her tell more folks.


I will never forget my embarrassment on the day I posted on Facebook (from a reliable source) that Nelson Mandala had died... more than a year before his actual death.
I was not alone in passing on this premature, erroneous  news.  But that does not excuse my error.
Read the  blog post about my Facebook error and other news media and social media errors

We all receive bad news  and often times must be the bearer of such news.
How do we deliver unwelcome news?
How do we receive it?

 I leave you with the final lines from  It Is I Who Must Begin by Vaclov Haved offering a helpful perspective toward our unwelcome news and resulting situations:

...I suddenly discover,
to my surprise, that
I am neither the only one,
nor the first,
nor the most important one
to have set out upon the road.
Whether all is really lost
or not depends entirely on
whether or not I am lost.

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

Reflect on the last time you were the bearer of bad news

How did you prepare?

When did you last receive unwelcome news?

How did you respond?

Wrtie a protocol or guide for others to deliver or respond to bad new.

Write an essay on the effects of bad news.