How do you deliver bad news to people you love? It's something we all have to do at least once in our lives, and most of us will face this dreaded responsibility numerous times.
How do you tell your wife, "I lost my job"? How do you tell your daughter, her brother's been killed in Afghanistan? How do you deliver the bitter pill, "I have cancer" or "I want a divorce" without sounding like a heartless brute?
We all know that honesty is the best policy, yet we also want to soften the blow. Still, aren't we really just protecting ourselves from a minefield? Shakespeare said, "The nature of bad news infects the teller."
That's why we try couching the bad news in terms that put it in perspective. We say, "It could be worse. At least your dog died instantly when the car hit him." Or, "I'll always love you. I just can't be married to you anymore." Statements like these are, in truth, lame attempts to make it easier on ourselves, and therefore, they're actually insulting to the person we claim to love.
Another ploy is to put the news in writing rather than relating it face to face. We tell ourselves a written message will be less traumatic. But again, whether we choose to admit it or not, it's ourselves we are protecting, not the other person. We're simply choosing to distance ourselves from the other person's grief or anger.
Some people try first to make the loved one laugh or to do something nice for that person. They mistakenly think that if they can make sure the person is already in a good mood the bad news will be less painful.
This is perhaps the worst approach of all. It's almost like a dirty trick. It simply delays the inevitable, and, once again, the motive is basically self-serving, an attempt to save yourself, not the other person, from pain.
So what is the best way to share bad news with someone you love? Here are some things I've learned: