How to Break Bad News More Comfortably

Being the bearer of bad news is unpleasant; there's nothing more uncomfortable than offering up a spoonful of negativity. Whether you're a supervisor who spends a lot of time interviewing and rejecting candidates, or simply someone who has to say "no" to a friend, it's never fun to break bad news. But sharing unpleasant words or feedback with another person can become less of a burden with a few simple steps.

Tip #1. Use a Positive Sandwich

When delivering feedback that's hard to hear, use the positive-negative-positive, or PNP, approach. Offer your listener a piece of good news first, then share the negative, and end on a positive note.

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For example, if you need to tell an employee that their attitude sucks, sandwich your criticism in-between two areas they excel at: let them know you love their fast response to problems that arise, but would love it if they spoke a little more positively at work; follow these statements up with a comment about how on top of things they are. They'll hear more good than bad, and will most likely leave thinking that the bad news is only a small part of what you meant to discuss.

Keep a few positives in mind the next time you need to share some not-so-good feedback with an employee, or deliver bad news and lighten the blow of your statement.

Tip #2. Offer Specifics

Need to tell staff their work isn't up to par? Rather than dropping a general "Your work sucks," comment, offer specific details about what areas need a bit more work. The more specifics you mention, the better others can hone in on those aspects and attempt to improve.

If you have to tell someone that they just aren't a good fit, whether in the workplace or your personal life, let them know exactly what went wrong.

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Getting specific will not only help the listener, but will also justify your point. Keeping things vague just leads to confusion and wondering, while detailed remarks can guide others to act better.

Tip #3. Focus on the Negatives

Weighing the pros and cons of any action is a good idea—but when it comes to unpleasant information, it's usually best to let it out. Holding back will only lead to a host of problems, so when you're worried about opening up, make a mental list of the negatives that'll follow if you keep quiet.

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For example, if you have to end a friendship, remind yourself that staying connected will keep you angry, or that the friendship causes more suffering than happiness. If it's time to send an employee packing, keep in mind all of the ways that staff member has piled onto your own workload.

Repeat those negatives to yourself as you share the bad news to keep focused on getting it over with. Remember, you're doing the right thing—and avoiding bad news will only bring more.

Tip #4. Provide Useful Feedback

Along with offering specifics when breaking bad news, you should ease the listener's pain by sharing helpful tips on what they can improve. Rather than smothering the bad in a sandwich of good, you can lay out the individual's weaknesses and provide potential avenues of improvement.

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At the end of a failed interview, don't just send the potential hire home with a firm "No"; give them a few tips on how they can ace their next interview at another company. Maybe they lacked confidence, but could sell themselves better with stronger examples of their workplace successes.

Whether you're advising a coworker or explaining why you ate your roommate's last helping of mac and cheese, cushioning the blow with helpful feedback can offer a little ray of hope in the midst of the unpleasant news.

Tip #5. Avoid Exaggeration

What's worse than hearing bad news? Hearing it framed as the worst thing to ever happen. Whether with an employee or just delivering unhappy information to a friend, it's a good idea to stick to the facts.

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Though it's tempting to add emotion or exaggerate details to really emphasize the doom-and-gloom of your news, try to avoid making things even worse.

Say what you need to say—grandma's in the hospital, or maybe your company is shuttering—without any additional description of how bleak things look. Let your listener figure out how they feel about the news rather than helping them feel as though everything is falling apart.

It'll Get Easier

Breaking bad news doesn't have to be an unpleasant experience. When you change your method of delivery, you can lessen the pain of carrying an unhappy burden. Just remember to keep things short and to the point—your recipient will thank you, too.

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