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Bearing Bad Tidings: Death Notification with Competence and Compassion

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Bearing Bad Tidings: Death Notification with Competence and Compassion. Why?. It’s the right thing to do. Do the right thing and it’s good for business. Litigation Ongoing coordination with the family Message sent to staff Reputational risk within the community and marketplace

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  • It’s the right thing to do.
  • Do the right thing and it’s good for business.
        • Litigation
        • Ongoing coordination with the family
        • Message sent to staff
        • Reputational risk within the community and marketplace
        • Return to productivity
preparation emotionally
Preparation - Emotionally
  • Should you be the person to deliver the news?
  • Evaluate your vulnerabilities:
      • Recent losses
      • Similar events
      • Current emotional and health status
      • Kids?
      • Likelihood of ongoing contact
  • Evaluate the impact upon the family if you do/don’t do it.
compassionate strength
Compassionate Strength

I care.

I am strong enough to handle this/you.

strategic objectives
Strategic Objectives







tactical preparation
Tactical Preparation
  • Make absolutely sure you know the full identity of the victim and the family!
  • Know the nature, time, and place of the incident.
  • Notification should be in person rather than phone whenever possible.
  • Go as a team. Never make notification alone. Team should include company leadership, close colleague, clergy/mental health.
  • The team should discuss what is known about the family and be able to address logistical, cultural, spiritual, medical, and mental health issues.
  • If possible, determine if the survivor(s) have a medical condition. Be prepared to provide emergency care.
  • Bring your cell phone.
control the setting
Control the Setting
  • If a close friend or family member already knows, include them.
  • Make certain the setting is confidential.
  • Have a team plan if children or neighbors are present. Do not inform children or neighbors before survivors. Remember that children will be watching and listening for their parent’s reactions.
  • Identify the next-of-kin/family spokesperson.
  • Arrange for safe travel for additional family members.
  • Sit down!
  • Identify yourselves by name and the company you represent.
  • Seated close, establish eye contact, speak with a lower, warm voice.
  • Inform simply and directly.
      • General – “Your _____ has been involved in a serious accident.”
      • Details – “His car was struck by a large truck.”
      • Notify – “Richard died as a result of his injuries.”
  • Be aware of individual and cultural differences. Go with what is comfortable for them.
  • Don’t fill the air with words. Compassionate silence.
  • “I’m so sorry” means condolences, not self-blame.
when they know
When They Know
  • Support adults as they inform children.
  • Be supportive but allow natural supports of family, friends, clergy, etc. to kick in.
  • Answer questions truthfully but sensitively. State only what you know for sure. Do not make promises that can/will not be kept.
  • Be practical! Childcare? Food? Tissues? Work? Monitor the phone and door. Offer to make calls to clergy/family/friends. Document these calls because they will forget.
  • Make certain natural/professional supports are in place before you leave.
worst case scenarios
Worst-Case Scenarios
  • You lose it.
  • They lose it.
  • Medical crisis.
  • Anger at self, each other, the company,…you.
  • Risk of self-harm.
  • No support for a solitary survivor.
  • Extreme attachment/dependency on you.
co worker notification
Draw circles of impact.

Position leadership as competent and compassionate.

Triage – expect resiliency but prepare for additional supports.


Co-Worker Notification


Acknowledge what has happened

Deliver information with sensitivity

Acknowledge the event’s impact upon people

Acknowledge the event’s impact upon you

Grant permission for a wide range of reactions

Serves to: Demonstrate leadership strength, align the leader with those led, establish a platform for cohesiveness



Communicate competence and compassion

Visible leadership communicates care and concern for those involved

Summarize what has happened. This is what we know at this time….

Present objective and credible information. OK to read a script. Stick with it!

Serves to: control rumors, reduce anxiety, and return a sense of control to impacted individuals


Transition and Refer

ALWAYS triage to next steps and a future focus

Give people permission to care for themselves. It’s not irreverent or dishonoring to the deceased.

Provide information about Coping – Emphasize resiliency

Focus first on Practical Assistance -- determine basic and practical needs

As indicated, link with Collaborative Services - transition individuals to appropriate level of support and provide information. (EAP, counseling center, community resources, written communications and web resources, telephonic support via a 1-800 number, to continued personal assistance/ intervention)

There is no greater honor and no greater responsibility than to be there on the worst day of someone’s life. We must do it well.
additional resources
Additional Resources

Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress


US Office of Personnel Management


CCN PracticePoints Archives