- Chapter 17 -
THE CONSIDERATE WAY TO
COMMUNICATE BAD NEWS
Instead of blurting out, "Bob has been killed in an automobile accident," a wiser way is as follows: The teller must first compose himself or herself, and then say, "Lucy, please come sit down. I have something to tell you." Then when both are seated, "I am sorry that what I have to say is bad news. We just heard it an hour ago. Bob has been killed in an automobile accident."
The point is to lead up to it gradually, and the value of having the person sitting down is that sometimes the recipient of such news faints, and there is the possibility of a fall and injury. The same procedure can be followed if the news has to be communicated by telephone.
Trying to be composed yourself as much as you possibly can is an important requirement in presenting bad news to another person. A few years ago, a man was killed in an automobile accident. Three friends of the wife went to call on her, but their faces and demeanors were such that she immediately said, "Something has happened to Paul." If the friends had composed themselves and planned better, the news could have been presented in a less hurtful way.
Another shocking example concerned friends who returned from a trip. The wife got the luggage and the husband went for the car. When a considerable period of time elapsed, she called the authorities to check on him. They found him sitting in his car with his head on the wheel - dead. The security guard returned and just announced to the woman as she was standing by her luggage, "He's dead."
Thinking of ways to alleviate an emotional reaction can be helpful. Peter Gosnell was doing some research in the library at Cambridge University in England. He received a telephone message for a woman who was also doing research, but who was not there at the time, so he wrote a note for her to read when she returned. It read, "Police Constable Phillips telephoned. Your bicycle stolen last year has been found." He thought for a moment and realized she might get a momentary shock from "Police Constable Phillips telephoned.", so he added at the top of the message, "You have some good news."