When Is the Best Time to Deliver a Bad News?

When Is the Best Time to Deliver a Bad News?

Ling Woo, a character in one of my favorite late 90s television series, Ally Mcbeal, said something cruel at a despairing situation in an episode. “By the way, it’s over between us”. This sentence should be one of the worst bad news that would have to come your way in a talk about relationship,

It wasn’t so much about what she said, but when she said it. Yes that was a breakup line. And true, someone breaks up with someone else at almost every hour of every day in the world I should think. But at the time Lang uttered the words, her boyfriend, Richard Fish, was stuck with his best friend and colleague, John Cage (The Biscuit) in an elevator.

They had spent a huge amount of time struggling to free themselves, before the maintenance crew of the building even came along to assist but to no avail. Eventually they had to get the fire service in on the rescue mission before there was any headway.

Read: When you have a building manager that knows he’s a boss

If you remember that episode, if you even know that the series existed, the elevator stopped quarter-way and could only open halfway. That is, it didn’t reach all the way to the selected floor, and also, it didn’t open all the way. I might not be remembering this correctly, but for certain they found no way to escape through the gap opening.

There was a bit of pandemonium also because the best friend, Biscuit, struggled with anxiety, so he had bouts of panic attacks. If I remember well, he got this urge to use the bathroom which wouldn’t go away (he programmed a toilet stall to have an automatic flusher, and he built a remote for it.

This helps to calm his stress in certain ways, which at that moment, he wasn’t being successful). And Richard had this way of undermining situations so A LOT WAS HAPPENING before he received the least warming message from his beloved!

Richard and Ling

A Clear Case of a Stream Of Bad News?

Ling, when asked by her closest friend why she chose the worst possible time to break up with her boyfriend as it would only add to his misery, defended her decision by explaining that it was really the perfect timing ever. He would be so distracted by the prevailing catastrophe, that another crisis wouldn’t strike as hard as it would should he have been having a good day.

It wasn’t until years after the series was cancelled in 2002 (years after that episode was released), and I watched it a couple more times from doing series marathons, that I pondered over that sentence in that scene. By then, I had gotten to the age where romance and relationships were more than hearsay & scenes from movies. I was, then, an adolescent that could comprehend forms of relationship dramas and I could own up to a fair share at the time in my life.

When Is the Best Time to Deliver a Bad News?

Revisiting that scene confused me about actions and reactions to human suffering. While to some, Ling eased Richard’s emotional suffering into a whole, rather than letting it spread to various moments of his life, from woe to woe.

She took what she thought to be the best form of damage control of his tempering current situation and managed it accordingly. But to other set of people, there couldn’t be greater acts of emotional brutality and betrayal to be effected by someone who claimed to love another.

Psychologically, How Do People React to Receiving Additional Bad News

Commonly, for matters of the heart and mind, objectivity would be sparingly considered when weighing whether an act is emotionally justified or purely unjustified. The cup that acquires the most sympathy (and empathy) receives kinder votes and fairer treatments.

Especially now when it has to do with yet another bad news upon a person, seeing as you can never be fully prepared for one, naturally the first inclination of our human nature would would be to draw against the source of the bad news and/or to be in denial.

An insensitive thing would be to think that for a certain person, persistent bad news at an instant in time would hit greater than if it were to have been spread over a period of time, and so, would be easier to treat as one bad news – thus, easier to manage (AND VICE VERSA).

People react to bad news differently, mostly depending on their emotional stability, security and temperament, for which these factors may/may not be influenced by timing. Extreme news could shock one person but would clarify another at whatever time and situation.

If one bad news would cheat you off a part of your inner joy, how much more a double-bad news or triple at an instant. It would feel like your world was in an endless crash and your soul wouldn’t stop crushing and bleeding.

And it’s only human to be numb after a second (or more) bad news, otherwise you may not have processed the information well enough or understood the gravity of it. Who knows, maybe you don’t care deeply enough about the information to feel any intense emotion for it, or it’s yet to spring out.

When Is the Best Time to Deliver a Bad News?

As insinuated earlier, among the times to deliver bad news, the best time is when the potential recipient is occupied with an existing horrific news. One of the most viable advises you can be given about managing any sort of bad news – disaster, breakup, wreck, letter of termination from work, etcetera, is to find a form of distraction.

Health.com, in this article about Managing Anxiety sets “Distract Yourself” as the second most heeded advice. What greater form of a distraction would be other than another bad news? Delivering a next set of bad news wouldn’t seem entertaining at that moment for you but it could be the fastest route to healing for the recipient.

No one would love to be the bearer of a bad news, even worse another bad news, seeing as being a messenger of gloom isn’t an endearing title, just as being a recipient of downfalls isn’t a graceful attribute. When referring to how doctors share bad news with their patients in this article on Medical News Today, Steven Pantilat, M.D, said, “Nobody likes doing it. No matter how well you deliver bad news, it’s still bad. You can’t make it somehow O.K. for the patient.”

When Is the Best Time to Deliver a Bad News?

Is Enabling A Stream Of Bad News Effective?

Distinctively, it is tough to receive a bad news and tough to deliver a bad news. But if you hold up on delivering a bad news because the potential recipient was already suffering from one, think again. You’ll only add to the woes if you shared it at a later time of their hopefulness.

Here, on Quora, Ajay says, “Negative news always has a higher impact than the positive news. It is needed for the survival in this world”. “Mentally, it causes you to be highly aware, alert and foreseeing What ifs”, Harsh Thakkar said also.

Delivering a bad news when the recipient is absorbed in another gives them a better time to align, reflect and put into perspective all the horrific events comparatively and constructively, and learning to deal and recover from the collective hurt, than having to deal with them at different sequence in time.

The Consequences of Streams of Bad News on a Recipient

The emotional health condition of a person will determine how badly the extra bad news would be received. No telling, it will not be with gladness and appreciation. And for a weak emotionally stable person, it would encourage suicidal thoughts at the extreme.

But you have to remember that bad news in batches would also incur those thoughts, maybe even worse. It would have barely little to do with the message of the fresh bad news, but the timing of it while in the process of healing from a previous bad news. Your worry should be how to deliver the bad news than if one timing was more appropriate than another.

When Is the Best Time to Deliver a Bad News?

In this article by Fast Company, they shared helpful tips on the Good ways to Deliver Bad News. Essentially, the key to delivering bad news is to be empathetic and compassionate, and nothing about delaying it.


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  1. Let me paraphrase:
    A woman lost her only child, she just got the news from the doctors and was in sober reflection then her husband who was on his way to the hospital died in a ghastly motor accident and am to deliver the news to her then am contemplating when to do so. In my candid opinion, its better to give her a choice at that moment to chose between joining them or holding on just a little bit longer and that’s being pragmatic but our Africa society frown at such brutal truth, try it and there in the hospital you might encounter a mob action for breaking the news to a grieving mother but its the right thing to do, rather than allow her go through the pains separately, when combined you have even done the sympathizers the favour of consoling her once and for all and she too will deal with the pains as one devastating blow.

    1. I actually thought in this direction first, because the recurrence of incidents like these is above average.
      Then I made some researches to ensure I wasn’t being insensitive to suggest such a thing that could destabilize a person’s mental health.

  2. This is really an educative post. I learned something. Thinking about it, I think there’s really no good time to tell a bad news. Even when the person is in a good mood, you feel bad to tell the person, so as to not stop the whole happy vibe or ruin whatever it is they are celebrating. Anyway, I love your final paragraphs. You put it so well.

  3. In delivering bad news you are right that a big part is in the delivery of it but also where you are coming of. Is it given with kindness? Business detatchment? or are you being mean. Obviously the type of bad news determines the timing also

    1. I also agree that there are bad news specifics that require more than the right eloquence in delivery. It’s never easy to take in.

  4. This information was presented in a fun and nostalgic way. You brought me right back to high school…with an important message to boot. I wish all people would have the courage to say what they wanted, right off the bat. Delays prolong the pain.

  5. I agree. It’s best to deliver more bad news in addition to preexisting bad news. That way, the recipient deals with all at the same time. Obviously, as another commenter said, deliver with kindness and empathy.

    It may not be the popular choice and initially, it may seem cruel and the recipient may feel overwhelmed. However, in the long run, it always works out better. Healing occurs simultaneously.

  6. Oh, and I really used to love Ally McBeal back then. I don’t remember much about it; didn’t even remember Lucy Liu being in it. But I remember I really liked it. She was a lawyer, right?

    1. Yes! They all were! Lucy Lui appeared first as a guest artist in season 2 I think, and then they developed her character. I think I read somewhere that the Director loved the feedback and so they had to create a new role in the script and make her a lawyer in subsequent seasons 😂

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