This was first published on KSL.com
This may seem like an obvious question, but I'd like some advice on how I break up with my girlfriend without hurting her too badly. She is great, but she isn't right for me. I know that she is probably going to take it hard, is there any soft way to do it?
I'd like to answer your question in a way that is relevant to anyone delivering bad news. This means situations like firing someone, giving negative feedback, or ending a relationship.
In each of these cases, the bad news is going to be the catalyst for some pain, fear or shame happening in the other person. There is no way around that. Rejection and criticism experiences are painful for most people, but there are some ways you can soften the blow and — even more important — change your mindset so it is easier for you, because being the one to deliver bad news can feel terrible, too.
Here are some things to keep in mind before you deliver the bad news:
Use some empathy
Take a minute and put yourself in their shoes. Imagine how they feel now and how the news is going to feel for them. Think about what you would want to hear and how you would want to hear it if you were in their position. This will help you to handle it with more kindness. You can also tune into God's love for this person and it will help you to come from love when you speak to them.
Find the right time and setting
Ideally, you'll want privacy, time and space for the other person to either be alone or to go be with other people who can support them. You might want a setting where it is easy for them to leave and not have to face you afterward. For example, don't break up with your girlfriend on a trip where you have to be together for two more days, and don't do it in public. Breaking up with someone in their home is best because you can leave and they feel safe there.
Remember: You are not responsible for their happiness
While you are responsible for delivering the bad news with clarity and kindness, you are not responsible for any part of what the person goes through next. That might sound cold, but you cannot be responsible for something that is out of your control. Place the person in God's hands and let go; he is responsible for their life journey and experiences.
Understand your part
The universe has set you up to be the one to deliver the bad news and facilitate this part of the person's perfect classroom journey. This person wouldn't be here if it wasn't their perfect journey to be here. They have in some way signed up for this "class" (whatever experience this bad news brings). Your perfect classroom journey placed you here to be the one to deliver this news because it is the class you are signed up for. Your part is to be kind, honest and straightforward. After you deliver the news, your job ends and God will take it from there.
End the relationship quickly
Put an end to the relationship as soon as you know it's not right for you. Don't keep dating someone because you feel bad hurting them. Be responsible and caring enough to be honest and tell them how you feel as soon as you know can.
Focus on a few positives first
Take some time and validate the person for the things they do right or their amazing qualities. Make sure they know you see them accurately and see their goodness, but don't spend too long here or they may get confused about how the bad news fits.
Use 'I' statements
Especially when breaking up with someone, don't focus on their faults or negative traits. Focus on what you are feeling, looking for or experiencing. They can't argue with your feelings because you are the only one who truly knows how you feel. Just state your feelings and what you need. Avoid statements about what they do or don't do.
Don't use cliches
Avoid saying things like "it's not you, it's me" or "I don't think I am good enough for you." The truth is probably "the chemistry isn't there for me at the level it should be" or "I know in my heart this relationship isn't right for me."
Be as kind, honest and as straight forward as possible
Deliver the news with respect, honoring the other person and their intrinsic worth. Be honest and speak the truth plainly. Don't beat around the bush, be direct and clear. Speak the facts with as few words as possible so there is no misunderstanding. Bad news is worse if you drag it on trying to get there carefully without hurting the other person. The sooner you give them the clear facts, the sooner they start on the road to healing.
If they get angry or sad, validate their right to feel that way
Don't try to talk to the other person out of their feelings; they are always right about how they feel. Say things like, "I totally understand why you feel this way." Tell them you are sorry but the conversation has to be over now. Don't allow them to drag out this part of being upset with you. You will actually help them start healing faster if you rip off the bandage and then give them space.
Give them closure
If you know this person isn't for you, then don't say you want to "take a break" or see where you both are in a few months. Care about them enough to walk away cleanly so they can start healing and getting over you. You cannot be part of their support system after the break-up. They need you to walk cleanly away and let other friends and family support them through it.
Allow them to vent a little
Allowing the other person to vent their feelings shows you care. If they have things to say to you or about you after you deliver the bad news, be willing to listen without getting defensive. They may lash out verbally as a way to make themselves feel better. This is them projecting their pain, and it would be best if you could listen to it while not getting upset or absorbing it. Allow them to vent a little and say again, "I understand why you feel that way." Validate their right to their feelings and then end the conversation.
What if they try to change your mind?
If the other person tried to change your mind, be willing to listen and validate their feelings but let them know that there is no changing this. Be clear, direct and honest. You are doing them a favor by staying strong because it puts them on the path to healing sooner.
It is never fun being the bearer of bad news and making other people feel bad, but it is part of life and we all play this role from time to time. Remember that it's not you making the person feel bad, it's the reality of this part of their perfect classroom journey. This experience is a perfect lesson for both of you in trust and love.
You can do this.
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Kimberly Giles is the president and founder of Claritypoint Life Coaching and 12 SHAPES INC. She is an author and professional speaker. She was named one of the top 20 advice gurus in the country by Good Morning America in 2010. She appears regularly on local and national TV and Radio.