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Bad News Etiquette

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Guest blogger Leslie Adler: If your friend is hitting rock bottom, here are tips on how to react.

Since I have had my share of "bad news," people frequently ask me about what to say when calling someone about whom you have heard bad news. "I heard my old friend from high school has cancer, should I call?" "I heard my neighbor is out of a job, should I call?" "I read in the newspaper that my friend's father was arrested for racketeering, should I call?" These are some of the examples, always followed by, "And what should I say?"

woman on phone

Should you call?

YES if:
• You are calling because you are truly concerned about their well-being
• Other than in the case of death, you are not using your "somebody died" voice
• You understand that you are calling to express your support, sympathy or to simply tell the person that they are in your thoughts and prayers and should you leave a message, you are not expecting a return call.
• You have information or resources you think would be helpful to them and you are prepared to go beyond the offer of help should they be willing to accept your help
• You might be able to make them laugh.

NO, if:

• You are calling because you have to be "in on the action" and the call is more about your needs than theirs
• You want to gossip about what you learned about the situation
• You have no sympathy and are not supportive of their situation
• You want to wallow in their situation more than they do.

What should you say?
• "I heard about your illness and you are in my thoughts and prayers."
• "I heard you were out of a job and I know a recruiter who is excellent in your field."
• "I heard about your father's arrest and if there is anything I can do to show my support or to help you when you are helping your father, please let me know."
• "I heard you are going through chemo and I know you will kick some serious cancer ass."

Finally, what not to say -- these things are not helpful
• "Oh, I know someone who died from that."
• "This is not a good time to be laid-off, the job market sucks."
• "I knew your father was a crook."

Stop laughing, because people can be that dumb.

Remember, if you follow the rules of Bad News Etiquette your call will be appreciated and you actually may help to brighten the moment, hour or day of the friend dealing with the news.

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3 comments so far | Post a comment now
jackie December 2, 2008, 1:38 PM

Thanks for the post. Hope I don’t have to use the advice anytime soon.

Madge December 2, 2008, 10:08 PM

Helpful and practical advice. Thanks!

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