How to deliver bad news

This way: You are an awesome person and I enjoy spending time with you, but I am not looking for a girlfriend / boyfriend.

Or this one: We have conflicting goals. You want to make pottery in Maine and I want to help starving children in India. You want to have a baby and I want to start a commune.

Not: You’re too good for me.

Certainly not: {no response, no response, no response, no response…….}

We think we’re being kind when we soft-pedal or outright avoid difficult conversations because we fear having them will hurt someone. But those fears are based on assumptions we’ve constructed from our own tender egos.

You’re thinking: I don’t want to hurt this girl. She’s been so sweet to me.

Telling her I don’t want to be with her is going to crush her. Oh my god. She might cry and everything. I cannot deal with that.

I’m the nice guy. I can’t make a girl cry. I am a horrible person.

Actually, you’re not a horrible person. Just one who has trouble giving direct answers.

She’s thinking: Wow. It seemed like everything was ok. He’s been a little distant lately, but he’s busy at work.

I thought he was busy at work, anyway. I don’t know now. Now all I know is he’s avoiding me.

If he wants to break up, he should just tell me that. I haven’t been too sure about this either, and I’ve been turning down opportunities out of loyalty to him.

Besides, I don’t want to be with someone who doesn’t want to be with me! Surely he gets that, so why doesn’t he just say it?

Does he think I’m so pitiful I won’t find someone else? Does he think I’ll have a total meltdown? Good lord.

Or wait, am I wrong and he doesn’t want to break up, he’s dealing with something that is NOT, in fact, about me? Oh no, what if something is bad wrong? What if he is sick? What if someone is dying?

Oh no. I am a horrible person. Either way, I am a horrible person.

You are not a horrible person. Just one who has trouble asking direct questions.

When two nice people have trouble being honest and clear, neither one looks terribly nice in the other one’s eyes. Sometimes the kindest thing one can do is deliver bad news, whether it’s to a romantic partner, an employee, a child, a friend, a patient or a client.

There have been times I wish someone had shared it with me, and times I would have liked to have shared it with someone else.

I offer it now from the perspective of someone happy where she is, adoring of and adored by gentle but mostly very direct people.


4 thoughts on “How to deliver bad news

    • Personally, I think it depends on the relationship between the people communicating. For example, if a hiring manager sends an email to a job applicant who isn’t qualified for an interview, I think that’s fine if the two never had a conversation beyond email. If a woman wants to break up with her boyfriend, no – a text message isn’t respectful of the relationship she’s wanting to end.

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