• Resolving Problems

How should a friend respond to bad news?

Published: September 27, 2013 | Last Updated: September 27, 2013 By | 2 Replies Continue Reading
When you tell a friend bad news, it’s not unusual to leave them at a loss for words.

QUESTION

Hi,

Long story short, I communicate with a few friends long distance (we have moved quite a bit). We email about all sorts of things, light and more serious, about once a week.

Recently, my husband and I received some bad news. This was something my “friends” knew about, and had asked me to keep them posted on. Yet, when I emailed these four friends separately about the bad news, two responded and two have not.

There has been no “I am sorry” etc. It’s been weeks. They are pretty responsible and respond to emails quickly. This is so hurtful. If they had emailed me bad news, I would respond right away. Even just to say, “I am sorry.”

Am I being over-sensitive? Am I expecting too much? It just seems so easy for someone to text or email back an acknowledgement of what happened. I just want to know they care!

I don’t want to give up these friends. They are really nice people. But it hurts and couldn’t take more than 30 seconds to respond. Should I ask them about it? Ask if I somehow offended them in some way?

Signed, Lee

ANSWER

Hi Lee,

Yes, friends should respond to bad news and should do so within a reasonable timeframe. The correct response upon hearing bad news is to express sympathy and see if there is some way you can help or support your friend in crisis—whether the bad news pertains to sickness, divorce, loss of employment, or death.

Unfortunately, bad news makes many people feel uncomfortable. They may identify so closely with a friend’s situation that they worry they “will be next,” or they may feel like they don’t know what to say, opting to say nothing rather than saying something wrong.

Although your friends live out-of-state, it is usually best to express bad news in person or by phone rather than by email or text. This gives the recipient of the news ample opportunity to listen and to clarify if they don’t understand. Also with emails (especially if they go out to a group), you can never be sure if someone received it, read it, or fully understood its importance.

If you are coping with a crisis, you are probably feeling sensitive and vulnerable to slights right now. For that reason, I wouldn’t dismiss these friendships over this issue. You need the support of your friends more than ever. If you care about these two friendships, reach out and call each of them and find out if they have time to hear your story without addressing the matter of the unanswered emails directly.

Hope this helps.

Best, Irene

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Category: Disappointing friends, RESOLVING PROBLEMS

Comments (2)

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  1. Aline says:

    Lee, I agree that they should’ve responded, if not right away, then as soon as they could. If they’ve been generally good at responding and this is out of the ordinary for them, then it would leave me to respond in two ways. First, I would not bring it up with, since you don’t know why they haven’t responded yet. Just leave it, wait and see what happens. If they are good friends, then they should be wondering why they haven’t heard further from you. This would apply to any reason – if they accidentally forgot to reply, if it went to the spam folder by accident (not likely since you write to them regularly), or they were dealing with their own crises. I would use this circumstance as a test. If they simply choose to ignore what happened, and you get an email from them completely avoiding the subject, then you have your answer. True friends are not worried if what they say might be appropriate if they are truly concerned with how you are doing. I mean, it only takes a few seconds to write a short reply, like “So sorry to hear. I hope you are otherwise doing well.”

    In my experience, some people are very good at faking a good friendship with you. It’s easier to act like a good friend when you’re far from them. My husband has a “best friend” that is only a best friend because he’s far away from him. That friend is only a friend when it’s convenient, like asking us for a free place to stay when he travels or to borrow money. It’s easy to act however you want when someone is not close by to verify the truth of what you are saying. For this reason, I would not consider anyone who is far away to be a THAT good of a friend anymore unless you see that they really work at staying a good friend with you.

    Also, keep in mind that there are many reasons for people to fake friendships. Some people call it friendships; other people call it networking. They might keep in contact with you just in case they need something from you. I used to have a friend who ignored my email when I asked her to pass along any job information for my brother. It wouldn’t have cost her anything to reply and say, “Sure, if I hear of anything, I’ll pass it along.” But then, when she lost her job, she remembered me all of sudden. What goes around, comes around. I ignored her email the same way she ignored mine.

    Keep track of when people seem to contact you more and why. Sometimes, I will throw out a small test on purpose to see who really cares enough to respond. I might ask for a referral for dentists, contractors, or babysitters. Make it rule to discontinue contact with people who can’t reply to an email. It’s very rare that people read an email and forget to reply to it. I think it’s better to protect yourself from fake people than to try to stay friends with everyone. A few good friends can be worth several fake friends. Just wait and see what they do next. That will be your answer. Take care and I really do hope things get better for you and that good friends find you. I don’t subscribe to any follow-up comments because I get too many emails, but I am on this site from time to time.

  2. Amy says:

    I’m sorry you have bad news and I’m sorry two of your friends haven’t responded.
    In the absence of a track record of negative experiences with these people, before you feel hurt, I’d consider that they might have their own issues going on or that the email could have accidentally deleted or forgotten (I’ve done that and I’m generally quite thoughtful). They could be on vacation too.
    In just over a week I had a friend’s husband die, a friend’s grandfather die, a friend’s elderly mother hospitalized and two friends with 95+ yo father were hospitalized–all this was in the past 10 days so I might not have responded perfectly to one or all of those folks. Like you I have several friends who’ve moved and we keep in touch by email, text or phone.
    I think in the interest of good communication, you might be best off sending another email saying since you hadn’t heard from them, you wanted to be sure they knew and update them. You don’t say what the bad news is, but they may not realize the news holds such a heavy weight. It’s hard to communicate in a three-dimensional way through email.

    You lose nothing by giving them the benefit of the doubt, but you can lose a lot by jumping to conclusions.

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