When somebody passes away and it is your responsibility to break the bad news, the manner in which you deliver it is crucial for both yourself and the recipient.
Breaking bad news guidance
Always be as sensitive as possible to the impact the message may have on the person receiving it, especially if you cannot do it face to face and have to call abroad for example. It is vital to remember that the delivery of bad news will stay with the person you are speaking with for the rest of their lives, this is something that we often forget in the moment due to it being such an emotional time for all
Consider both the age and health of elderly people. If you are speaking to someone whose first language is not English, a person with learning difficulties or a disability, it may help to rehearse exactly what you are going to say and to practise being clear and concise.
A safe and confidential setting is always ideal, away from distractions or potential interruption. Allow yourself plenty of time to break the news and do not rush because you are keen to get it over and done with.
Limit any likely disturbances by switching off appliances like TVs and radios and put your mobile phone on silent where possible.
Focus on the challenge in front of you. Do not hesitate, be clear and use simple straight forward language to get the message across as clearly as possible. Do not waffle or bring any unrelated topics into conversation, it will only confuse matters.
Be prepared to repeat elements of what you have said or even in some cases the entire message again. It is common for people to only absorb small details when receiving bad news and they may not fully understand the exact circumstances you have described and are likely to muddle up some elements of what you have said.
Certain people will need to sit down and need space to take in the news. Don’t take it upon yourself to physically console them straight away with a hug or a pat on the back for instance. They will be in shock and they must decide if they want to be held or touched.
Try not to promise anything in the heat of the moment that you may regret later or cannot ultimately deliver or carry through as the consequences can often be painful. Although you may have the best intentions, the other person may not be ready for anything other than quiet reflection time.
In the event of the recipient becoming particularly distressed and you cannot stay with them, try to contact somebody that can.
Delivering tragic news can affect the deliverer too. After the event if you start to feel distressed speak to a confident or if necessary, seek further professional help and support.
Talking to children and young people
There are trained professionals that struggle to deliver the news to a child so there is no shame if you feel uncomfortable or fearful about this daunting prospect. Managing this delicate situation is tricky and knowing what to say can seem impossible. However, children do not suffer the same intense prolonged feelings that adults experience and their bereavement grieving process is quite different. The most effective way to deliver is to keep language simple whilst remaining honest and clear about exactly what has happened and be prepared to answer any inevitable follow up questions they have there and then.