How to Break Bad News to a Friend

Our resident psychiatrist Dr. Samantha Boardman devises the best approach to being the messenger.

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Q: What is a sensitive approach to delivering bad news to a friend?

Resist the impulse to sugarcoat the situation or beat around the bush. As uncomfortable as it might feel for you to be direct, research suggests that recipients of bad news prefer candor and very little, if any, buffer. There is no need to launch into a lengthy song and dance about how fabulous they are or to engage in superficial conversation about the great weather. If you are concerned about a “shoot the messenger” reaction, remind your friend how much you care about her.

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According to a study titled “The Power of Good Intentions: Perceived Benevolence Soothes Pain, Increases Pleasure, and Improves Taste,” perception shapes experience. Make sure your friend knows your comments come from a place of kindness and that you have her best interests at heart. It won’t make the pain of the bad news go away, but it might hurt a little less.

Dr. Samantha Boardman is a clinical instructor in psychiatry and an assistant attending psychiatrist at Weil Cornell Medical College in New York and the the founder of positivepercription.com.

A version of this story appeared in the October 2018 issue of Marie Claire.

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