How to Deliver Bad News in an Email: Tips & Examples

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Most people will have difficult conversations or send difficult messages at various times in their lives. For example, perhaps you’ve needed to have end-of-life conversations with loved ones, or someone has asked you to write an “In loving memory” eulogy.

Jump ahead to these sections:

Sharing bad news via email is another example. For many reasons, from sharing bad news about the company with employees to letting relatives know about a death, you might have to send a bad news email at some point.

That’s not an easy task. However, by reviewing the tips and bad news email examples here, you’ll find it’s a task you can handle.

What You Should and Shouldn’t Do When Delivering Bad News

It’s easy to make mistakes when sharing bad news in any format. Don’t worry if you’re concerned about that when sending an email with bad news. These tips will help you understand what you should and shouldn’t do.

Make sure you’re ready

You need to strike a balance when delivering bad news. Depending on the nature of the situation, waiting too long to contact someone with bad news could result in them learning about it from a different source, which could potentially upset them. However, you also need to make sure you’re prepared.

Be ready to break the news in a respectful and thorough manner, and be ready to manage how the person you’re contacting might respond. Give yourself some time to prepare emotionally before sharing bad news (but only if you believe the people you’re contacting won’t learn about it in a different way before you reach out to them).

Don’t lie or sugarcoat

No one enjoys sharing bad news. Wanting to “sugarcoat” the information you’re sharing by leaving out key details or acting optimistic is understandable. However, the truth will come out eventually. You and those you’re contacting will benefit in the long run if you’re honest from the start.

For example, perhaps you need to let family members know a loved one has received a bad health diagnosis and only has a few months to live. You might feel you should soften the blow by saying they still have a chance of beating the illness. However, you’re not doing anyone (including yourself) any favors if you’re misrepresenting the doctor’s statements.

Be human

This point isn’t as vague as it may sound. Essentially, anyone who needs to share bad news with others is usually someone who also feels the need to be strong. You already know you’re sharing information that will upset those who hear it. You don’t want to upset them further by struggling to manage your own emotions.

That’s a very kind attitude. To some degree, it’s also necessary. Once again, preparing yourself emotionally to share bad news respectfully is important in these situations. Just remember, the people you’re contacting know you’re a human being. They’ll expect you to sound at least somewhat upset when you tell them about what has happened. Give yourself some freedom to address your feelings about the news.

This doesn’t need to be complicated. For example, maybe you’re a manager or supervisor, and you’re sending an email announcement of the death of an employee’s family member. It’s entirely reasonable to include such phrases as “This will likely come as a shock to many of you, because it certainly did to me” if they reflect your true feelings.

Don’t give advice about how anyone should feel

When sharing bad news with someone, some people believe they can help by encouraging the individual they’re contacting to “look on the bright side” or otherwise feel positive during a difficult time. 

For instance, you might be wondering how to announce the death of a family member to other relatives. Maybe you think you can comfort them by saying something like, “Don’t you dare feel bad about this, because that’s the last thing that Grandpa would have wanted!”

Again, you might have good intentions, but good intentions don’t always lead to a positive result. Everyone has their own response to bad news. You need to let someone respond naturally, instead of dictating how they should feel. After all, they’re going to have a difficult experience coping with the news you’re sharing. Don’t make the experience more difficult by making them feel they need to bury their emotions.

ยป MORE: Honor your loved one's memory by taking the right next steps. Here is your free post-loss checklist.

 

How to Deliver Bad News in an Email

The next section of this blog offers bad news email examples you can refer to. First, let’s review some helpful tips about sending bad news in an email.

Make the subject line noticeable

Most people receive a large number of emails in a given day. It takes a lot of time to sort through your inbox. Many people leave a substantial amount of emails unread. Even if they do get around to reading them eventually, they might not do so the day (or even week) they receive them. They’re simply too busy.

Remember this when sharing bad news in an email. This is a message the person you’re contacting needs to read as soon as possible. Depending on the nature of your relationship with them, you could make sure they do by clearly stating in your subject line that this is an urgent matter.

You might feel comfortable reaching out to loved ones via email and using a subject line that explicitly addresses the nature of the message: “Sad news about Aunt Beth. Please read now.” Or you might only use language to express urgency the recipient read right away. Use your judgment when deciding what types of language and phrases to include.

See it from their side

Just as no one likes to share bad news, no one likes to hear it either. Unfortunately, most people will receive bad news at various times throughout their life. Odds are good you’ve had this experience yourself.

That means you have perspective. Think about the type of information and emotions you’d want to find in a bad news email. For instance, if you received an email about the sudden passing of a relative, you might want to get clear but compassionate details about the circumstances of their death. 

That’s just one example. Putting yourself in the position of those you’re contacting will help you more easily decide what to write in a bad news email.

Examples of Delivering Bad News in an Email 

The following bad news email examples should help if you ever need to draft this type of message. That said, you should also remember that these are merely general bad news email examples, and you’ll almost definitely need to adjust some of the details for your specific situation:

When someone is ill

Janice,

I’ll get right to the point. There’s no easy way to tell you this, but Kelly was diagnosed with cancer and it’s not looking good.

Knowing you, I’m sure you want to help any way you can at this time. We appreciate that. But we also know this is difficult news to cope with. We promise to reach out if we need your support.

In the meantime, I’ll do my best to answer any questions, but you probably understand we’ll be very busy the next few months, so I apologize in advance if I don’t respond right away when you get in touch. Please don’t share this information with the in-laws. I’m handling that, and I’ll let you know when everyone else has heard the news.

When someone died

Brian,

I’m deeply sad to let you know Charlie has passed away. I’ll contact you immediately with information about services and next steps as soon as I have it. I’ve already let Meagan and Rose know, so you can discuss it with them, but Anthony and Jeff haven’t gotten back to me yet, so I can’t be sure they’ve heard the sad news.

I’ll let you know when they respond, but for now, please don’t share this news with them or post about it on social media. Just focus on taking care of yourself and your family. I’m happy to answer your questions, but know I may not always be able to do so right away.

Tip: If you're planning a virtual funeral or memorial, some companies like GatheringUs have specialists who can guide and support you through the planning process.

Regarding work or business

Ashley,

I’m sorry to let you know I have some bad news to share. Our business lost a client and we’ve been forced to cut costs, so although you’ve done great work for us, we can no longer assign you additional projects as a contractor for the foreseeable future.

I’d be more than happy to provide a glowing testimonial for your services, and if future opportunities do arise, I’ll think of you. However, I can’t promise that will happen, so I recommend seeking other clients.

Bad News Email Examples and Tips: Managing Life’s Challenges

This blog post has no intention of downplaying how difficult sending a bad news email can be. These situations are never entirely comfortable. That said, by reviewing bad news email examples and tips, you’ll realize they’re manageable. The recipient may be glad to know the news sooner than later.

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