Breaking Bad News

  • DON'T telephone the family/bereaved in advance to say you are coming. Try to find out discreetly where they might be found in person. If you need to break the news in the workplace, ask the person's manager beforehand for a quiet space to meet.
  • Make sure there is a second person there to support you. This might be another member of your management team, or someone who knows the family. Ideally, if you're a woman, take a male colleague, and vice versa. It can help to have a male-female mix.
  • If there is a need to convey bad news to family members/next-of-kin abroad, this is best done in person by someone known to and trusted by you. This individual is unlikely to have been trained, so this document should be emailed to them, accompanied by a detailed telephone briefing before they make the visit.
  • Those volunteering for this work must know that it can mean travelling, and being involved for some days — and even weeks or months.
  • Remember that you may be telling next of kin of the death of someone who was also close to you personally. Do not underestimate the powerful effect this may have on you.
  • Make sure you have your own support. If you feel too distressed to do this, it's important — and OK — that you ask someone else to take over.