How to Deliver Bad News

Leaders will have the opportunity to deliver disturbing news. How can we do that with the least pain?

Any abrupt powerful announcement without preparation reminds me of the story of a new state trooper. He’d never made a death call. He hadn’t been trained. He didn’t know what to say. He was going to inform a woman her husband had been killed in an accident.

He kept rehearsing possibilities.

He rang the doorbell.

The lady answered the door.

He asked, “Are you widow Jones?”

She replied, “No. I’m not a widow.”

He said, “You are now.”

Much too abrupt.

Someone gave me a principle for delivering bad news:

Lead the Person to Tell Themselves the Bad News

This principle was helpful early in my ministry.

I’d performed a wedding. The bride, Brenda, was from our congregation. The groom was stationed at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky, and was deployed.

I received a call from a chaplain at Ft. Campbell. The soldier’s wife, Brenda, was driving on Ft. Campbell Boulevard with her children. She was in an accident and was killed.

An officer and a chaplain from the base came to Madisonville, Kentucky to tell her mother. Her mother had recently moved and they were unable to find her. They made a connection between Brenda and the church and called me.

I went to the mother’s house and knocked on her door. When she opened the door, I asked her to come in to talk. 

When we were seated, I said, “I have some disturbing news I need to tell you. Your daughter, Brenda, was driving on Ft. Campbell Boulevard this afternoon and was in an accident.”

Mother, “Oh. Was she hurt?”

Me, “Yes.” 

Mother, “Was it was serious.”

Me, “Yes, it was very serious.”

Mother, “Is she dead?”

Me, “Yes. She died.”

Mother, “What about the children?”

Me, “They survived and are expected to recover completely.”

I gave her phone numbers to talk to the authorities there. I stayed and talked for a while. We agreed to talk more when she returned home.

  1. Try to deliver painful news in the best environment.
  2. Work on yourself and check your ability to deliver the message in a helpful way.
  3. Talk in a private place.
  4. Have a supporting person or supporting persons present.
  5. Offer more help to the recipients of the bad news.

What suggestions do you have when delivering bad news?

Please comment below.

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Jerrie Barber
Servant of Jesus, husband to Gail, father to Jerrie Wayne Barber, II and Christi Parsons, grandfather, great-grandfather, Interim Preacher, Shepherd coach, Ventriloquist, barefoot runner, ride a cruiser bicycle

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