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Reacting to Bad News: Tips for Email Phrases

Reacting to bad news

Reacting to bad news in a prompt, well-written way can convey a powerful message: not only are you concerned about your business relationships, you also care about how your clients and colleagues are doing personally, too. If a client cancels a meeting because something unfortunate has happened in their lives, take a moment to pass along your best wishes. This is a very simple process that can be accomplished with just a few phrases. The key is to make sure your email matches the seriousness of the situation. Here are some phrases that match situations you might encounter.

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Phrases for reacting to bad news

1.  That’s a pity. / That’s a shame. / That’s too bad.

We use these phrases for unfortunate, but small, incidents. For example, if someone can’t come to your  presentation.

2.  I’m sorry to hear that. 

Here we see a useful phrase: ‘I’m sorry to hear’. Some examples:

  • I’m sorry to hear you aren’t feeling well.
  • I’m sorry to hear you missed your flight.
  • I’m sorry to hear you didn’t get the job.
3.  I’m very sorry to hear that.

We use this phrase for serious events, such as a death in someone’s family.

Phrases referencing a positive view of the future when reacting to bad news

  • I hope you get well soon.
  • I hope you can catch another flight.
  • I hope you find an interesting position soon.

Phrases offering to help when reacting to bad news

These phrases can be used in the more serious situations listed in numbers 2 and 3 above.

  • If there’s anything I can do to help, just let me know.
  • If you need anything, please let me know.
  • If there is anything I can do to assist you in this difficult time, please let me know.

Example of a good way of reacting to bad news

Hi John,

Thanks for your email.
I’m sorry to hear you aren’t feeling well. I hope you get well soon.
If there’s anything I can do to help, just let me know.
Brigitte and the rest of the team send their best wishes.

Best regards,

Giving and getting bad news can be very difficult in business.  Hopefully, these email phrases can help. Let us know if you have any suggestions on other phrases or approaches to reacting to bad news in emails in the comments area below.


If you’re looking for phrases, tips and tricks and useful downloads related to this topic, start here. In a range of topics, here are some more links for you:


1 reply
  1. Jennie Wright
    Jennie Wright says:

    The phrases for reacting to bad news are also good when speaking to someone, not only for emails.

    Because of this, it’s good to remember and practice two or three so you are ready to respond if you hear bad news face to face.

    I would also add to the phrases above:

    That’s + adjective

    That’s terrible!
    That’s awful!
    That’s so unexpected!

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