How to break bad news: “Are you in the right headspace to receive information that could possibly hurt you?”

Posted by
Jessica Rapana
backgroundLayer 1
Add this article to your list of favourites

A viral tweet has suggested that we should ask for consent before sharing bad news with our friends – how would you respond to this text message?

It’s an idle Tuesday. You’re at work, as per usual, when you look down and see a text message from a close friend. It reads: “Are you in the right headspace to receive information that could possibly hurt you?” 

How do you respond?

At a guess, your mind probably spirals – is someone cheating? Or worse, dying? Have you done something wrong? Is the world – or yours, at least – about to implode?

Blame negative bias, but most of us tend to assume the worst when faced with such emotionally charged ambiguity. So is it just better to rip the band-aid right off? 

Yet, to play devil’s advocate here for a second, maybe it is helpful to preface bad news with some sort of warning, rather than blindsiding the recipient?

Such is the predicament raised by Yana Birt in a now-viral tweet, which read: “I just want to say, a lot of y’all dump information on your friends at the wrong time without their consent. If you know it’s something that could hurt them, ask permission before you decide to be messy. Please.”

Clearly, the issue is not black-and-white, as can be seen by the myriad (and mixed) responses to Birt’s original tweet, which poses the murky question of whether people should be asking for consent via text prior to sharing unpleasant news, and whether the kind of message she suggests would be effective in defusing such information.

Many people have lashed out at the idea, claiming this kind of text would be more damaging, and likely to trigger just as much anxiety, as hearing the bad news in the first place.

“This is the platonic equivalent of the ‘we need to talk’ text. It is counter intuitive and completely unnecessary,” one user replied on Twitter. Another added: “I will absolutely NOT be in the right headspace after reading a whack message like that.”

While many users with anxiety pointed out that the language used could be problematic: “You clearly don’t have anxiety,” someone wrote. “Asking kindly if it’s OK to drop some heavy shit on someone is one thing and it is definitely needed but this is way off,” another added.

Meanwhile, another user who claimed they suffered from anxiety and panic disorder, said that while they would not want to receive Birt’s exact message, they would want a friend to ask permission to share “something they know could be triggering”.

Another user pointed out that, despite being framed as a yes or no question, the reality was more complex: “Once you dump that question on someone, even if they are not in the right headspace they kind of have to say yes or else deal with the anguish of an unknown horrible thing.”

Others suggested that a person who knows something that could hurt someone should take full responsibility over whether to share it or not, rather than shifting the responsibility onto the recipient.

There is no right or wrong answer here. Rather, it is subjective and dependent on the context and people involved – something Birt herself alludes to, responding to the criticism: “Everyone navigates their individual friendships differently. This was spot on for us. To each their own.”

Image: Getty


Share this article


Jessica Rapana

Jessica Rapana is a journalist based in London, and enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content. She is especially fond of news, health, entertainment and travel content, and drinks coffee like a Gilmore Girl.

Recommended by Jessica Rapana


Why quality, not quantity, is the key to good friendships as you get older

A new study has revealed why investing in your strongest relationships pays off over time.

Posted by
Hannah-Rose Yee

Female friendship and the great baby divide

'A conversational shift has occurred'

Posted by
Stylist Team

Selena Gomez ended friendships for the sake of her mental health

The singer gets real on fame, friendship and mental health

Posted by
Moya Crockett