Hearing bad news is never nice and it can often leave us at a loss for words.
It is difficult to respond appropriately when we are shocked because we often need to regulate our own emotions before we can convey what we are feeling to the person in front of us.
Many people struggle with how to give bad news, which can make it even harder to hear.
If you hear something sad or disturbing that you weren’t expecting, don’t just say the first thing that comes to your mind.
Take a deep breath and count to five. Then, think about what is most important to you at that moment. Is it making the person in front of you feel better? Is it expressing disappointment? Is it remaining professional?
Whatever it is, choose the words that will help you achieve that goal.
Here are a few helpful suggestions for how to respond to different kinds of bad news.
14 ways to respond to bad news
- I’m so sorry for your loss.
- I’m so sorry to hear that. Please let me know if there is anything I can do for you at this difficult time.
- Oh no, that’s so hard. They were such a lovely, caring, bright light of a person.
- I’m so sorry to hear that, they will be dearly missed.
- My sincere condolences. The world has lost a special soul. If you need anything, let me know.
- Ah no, that’s terrible. I’m so sorry that happened to you. How are you doing?
- I’m so sorry about that. Can I do anything to make you feel better?
- Ah that’s so unfair, you deserve so much better than that.
- Oh gosh, that’s awful. Give me a call if you want to talk about it.
- Oh dear, I’m sorry. Well, I’m here if you want to talk.
- That’s unfortunate. I will do my best to rearrange this appropriately.
- I am disappointed to hear that. I hope we can find a way to work through this.
- What you have told me puts us in an unfortunate situation. I will get back to you shortly with a proposal for how to move forward.
- I’m obviously upset by this news, but I appreciate your straightforward and honest approach.
How to respond to bad news about someone dying
They say the only two certainties in life are death and taxes. But no matter how aware we are that death is part of life, it doesn’t make it easier when someone leaves us for good.
One of the worst kinds of bad news to receive is that someone we know has passed away. Now, this can hit worse or better depending on how well we knew the person and how unexpected their death was.
If an elderly relative of a close friend passes, you will feel sad for them, but you probably won’t be all too surprised. However, if a close friend dies unexpectedly, you will likely be completely devastated.
In either case, it can be difficult to find the words to respond. Here are a few ways you could express your sadness that someone has passed away.
1. I’m so sorry for your loss.
This is a simple and powerful way to respond to the news that someone has passed away.
There are other ways to say “Sorry for your loss” that convey the same meaning, but none are quite as profound.
Telling someone you are sorry for their loss lets them know that you are thinking of them and feel regret about the way that things have turned out.
You are not actually saying that you are sorry, because of course you have not done anything wrong. You are just expressing empathy for their situation and letting them know they are on your mind and that you would not have wished this for them.
2. I’m so sorry to hear that. Please let me know if there is anything I can do for you at this difficult time.
Instead of saying “sorry for your loss,” you can also say that you are sorry to hear something. This essentially expresses the same thing.
Offering to help someone who has just lost a loved one out when they are having a difficult time conveys care.
If you are someone who struggles to express care with your words, offering to perform a service is a profound way to communicate your concern and love to someone who matters to you.
You might even decide to write the family of the deceased a sympathy letter to let them know that they are in your thoughts.
3. Oh no, that’s so hard. They were such a lovely, caring, bright light of a person.
If you knew the person who has passed away well enough to comment about their personality, then let the person in your life who was close to them know how much you appreciated their loved one.
Saying that someone who has passed away was a lovely person who always made you feel warm and cared for will surely move the people closest to them.
4. I’m so sorry to hear that, they will be dearly missed.
Another good way to express your sadness that someone is no longer with us is to say that they will be dearly missed.
This is essentially another way of saying that they were a lovely person and that they made a positive difference to many people.
When someone is experiencing grief, it is consoling for them to know that other people also valued the person they are grieving.
5. My sincere condolences. The world has lost a special soul. I am thinking of you during this difficult time.
This is a somewhat more formal way to respond to the news that someone has died.
Saying, “My sincere condolences,” is a respectful to acknowledge the passing of someone you knew from a distance.
You might even decide to write a condolence letter, and include this phrasing in it.
The family of the deceased will likely respond with a note thanking you for your condolences.
How to respond to bad news about a friend
Of course, there are different kinds of bad news.
Another situation in which you might need to respond to something sad or frustrating happening to someone you care about, is when something goes wrong in a friend’s life.
Much like when you are responding to an apology from a friend, when you react to a friend telling you bad news about their life, you have to proceed with great care and choose your words wisely.
Friends can be very sensitive to how the people around them respond when something isn’t going well for them.
If they feel that you are judging them or are not being appropriately sympathetic, they may resent you for it.
You might also tell them to keep in touch, or find another way to say, “Keep me in the loop” so that they know they can reach out to you and update you about how their situation is developing.
6. Ah no, that’s terrible. I’m so sorry that happened to you. How are you doing?
The most important thing to express when a friend tells you bad news about their life is that you understand how bad it is.
While you can try to cheer them up eventually by offering them some helpful perspective, they will only be receptive to it if they feel that you fully understand the extent of the pain they are feeling.
So, begin your response to a friend telling you bad news with something like, “that’s terrible,” or “that’s awful,” so that they feel that you are fully commiserating with them.
Then, ask them how they’re doing.
7. I’m so sorry about that. Can I do anything to make you feel better?
If you feel like the best response to bad news about your friend’s life is to offer to help them, then tell them you are sorry about what has happened and ask if there’s anything you can do.
Whether your friend has just been let go from their job and is worried that getting fired will look back on a resume, has broken up with their partner and has to look for a new place to live, or is simply feeling low, expressing sympathy never hurts.
Following up your expression of emotion with an offer to perform a practical task shows that you really mean what you said about being sorry about their situation.
8. Ah that’s so unfair, you deserve so much better than that.
If something is going wrong for a friend of yours in either a relationship or a professional context, telling them it is unfair will surely make them feel better.
Adding that they deserve better will make them feel appreciated and valued.
9. Oh gosh, that’s awful. Give me a call if you want to talk about it.
If a friend tells you about something bad that has happened to them, let them know that it sounds awful, and then tell them they can call you if they want to talk things through.
Offering to be a listening ear on the other side the line might be exactly what your friend needs.
Bottling up difficult emotions can be highly stressful, so having an outlet for them will surely make your friend feel better.
10. Oh dear, I’m sorry. Well, I’m here if you want to talk.
This is a good way to respond to bad news from a friend it the new is, well, not that bad.
If your friend is upset about someone they met online cancelling a date, or is annoyed because their coworker made a snarky comment, you will want to express sympathy, of course. That said, you may not want to offer to move heaven and earth if you feel that, quite frankly, they are making a mountain out of a mole hill.
This response expresses sympathy and demonstrates a willingness to listen to their problems without promising them that you will dedicate all your energy to their problem.
How to react to bad news at work
One of the most difficult settings to hear bad news in is in your professional life.
Our work life can be a source of stress even when it is going well. When something goes badly, it can feel like things are spiraling out of control. However, it is important to keep your cool and respond professionally when you receive bad news at work.
While many employers do research about how employees respond to bad news before communicating unfortunate or upsetting information, that doesn’t make what you’re being told easier.
And it is not just employers who deliver bad news in the workplace. You may be told by a company you’re partnering with that they can no longer participate in the collaboration, or else find out that a freelancer you have hired to do the graphics for a project is no longer able to do what they agreed to.
These and many, many more examples could put you in a professional funk if you don’t respond well. So, to help you get through dealing with receiving challenging information about your work life, here are a few ways you might react to hearing bad news at work.
11. That’s unfortunate. I will do my best to rearrange this appropriately.
If you have been let down by a colleague or collaborator, you can respond with a simple, “that’s unfortunate.”
There is no point in pretending that you are not disappointed when you feel professionally let down, but there is also not much point in giving someone too much feedback if the bad news they’ve given you is relatively minor.
Instead, express that you are not fully happy, and then explain how you are going to deal with the situation.
Saying, “I will do my best to rearrange this appropriately,” conveys that you are now having to go out of your way to re-do work that you had already done. It also communicates that you are fixing the problem.
12. I am disappointed to hear that. I hope we can find a way to work through this.
If you receive a bad review and are worried about how to respond to feedback, you can just tell the person who has given you the bad news that you are disappointed by it.
Then, say that you hope that there will be a way to work through the problem. This shows a willingness to learn and to be a collaborative partner in the workplace.
When things go wrong at work, they should not actually be emotional or personal issues. They should be professional matters. Treat any bad news you receive as a work problem and do your best not to bring it home with you.
Responding appropriately to bad news you receive in the workplace will make you feel like you’ve managed your professional duties well and will make it easier for you not to let them cause you stress when the workday is done.
13. What you have told me puts us in an unfortunate situation. I will get back to you shortly with a proposal for how to move forward.
If you receive bad news about a project you were working on or are told that a deadline is going to have to be moved forward or backward in a way that causes you significant inconvenience, don’t hide this from the person or company who has put you in this position.
Tell them that what have told you is unfortunate. Then let them you’ll touch base with them about how to address the situation once you’ve had the time to think about it and come up with an appropriate work-around.
This is a highly mature and professional reaction to receiving bad news in a work setting. It is both assertive and reasonable.
14. I’m obviously upset by this news, but I appreciate your straightforward and honest approach.
This is a great response for almost any bad news you receive in the workplace, provided that it is delivered to you in a transparent and concise fashion.
Whether someone tells you that a crucial shipment isn’t going to arrive on time, that an event you’ve planned can’t move forward, that your working hours are going to be reduced, or that a client was unsatisfied with your work, this response hits the nail on the head.
It expresses disappointment about the situation, but still manages to gracefully thank the person delivering the bad news for the way in which they communicated it to you.
This will go a long way toward establishing you as a competent and professional individual in their eyes.
Hey fellow Linguaholics! It’s me, Marcel. I am the proud owner of linguaholic.com. Languages have always been my passion and I have studied Linguistics, Computational Linguistics and Sinology at the University of Zurich. It is my utmost pleasure to share with all of you guys what I know about languages and linguistics in general.