Breaking Bad News
February 17, 2009
- Try beforehand to find out, as far as possible:
- The location of the body, or the injured colleague, and whether next-of-kin are going to be able to visit (many bereaved wish to do so);
- Exactly what happened (as far as is known at this point), the circumstances, where they were, what they were doing, the details of their death or injury, the condition of the body.
- Experience suggests that bereaved family members often want to know this information in considerable — and accurate and honest — detail. Be prepared to help them find out everything they need to know.
- Ensure that the news blackout holds until the immediate family and other family/friends/colleagues have been told — then, if appropriate, organise brief updates to your organisation's press office for public consumption.
- You will need to make sure the family know what is going out in public, and that they know more. They will then trust your organisation to be telling them everything, and not worry about speculative reports in the wider media.
- Ask your colleagues back at work to keep up a steady flow of updated information to reach the team breaking the news — text messages to a silent mobile are the best way to do this.
- Ensure your press office is across everything, and is able to ensure that there is no unwanted press presence at the house.
- None of the above should delay delivering the message. If necessary, the local police can be asked for help.