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Breaking Bad News Gently

"Do sit down, Sergeant. Shocks are so much better absorbed with the knees bent."
Lord Summerisle The Wicker Man

Bad news is of course hard to tell to other people (unless someone is feeling malicious), which means it's preferable in those circumstances to try to break the news as gently as possible.

There are several methods. One of the most common in fiction is to tell the recipient to sit down before hearing the news, often in case the news is upsetting enough to cause Fainting. Often, to show how tough or Bad Ass they are, the listener usually says, through clenched jaws, "I think I'll stand" or "I prefer to stand" or some variation thereof.

Regardless of the delivery, how the recipient reacts can vary, before and after hearing the news. Before, some might be so anxious, they can shout "Just Tell Me!", while others might ask for a minute to prep themselves. After, some can be happy (if the news was actually in their favor without the bearer knowing it), and some can react even worse than the bearer feared.

A Dramatic Sit-Down is likely at some point.

And it should be noted that methods have been around long enough for many to be discredited. Expect many instances of this trope to be Played for Laughs.

A Sub-Trope of Bearer of Bad News.

A Super Trope to Bad News in a Good Way, Good News, Bad News.

Examples:

Jokes
  • A man goes on vacation and his friend is watching his cat. A few days in the man calls to check up, and the friend says "your cat fell off the roof and died." The man says, "Ouch! Couldn't you have said it more gently, like 'Your cat climbed up on the roof, there was a loose tile, she fell, I rushed her to the vet, but there was nothing they could do?' " The friend apologizes and a few months go by. The man goes away again, and calls to check in. His friend says "Your mother climbed up on the roof..."

Film
  • Used in Facing the Giants, when Coach Grant Taylor gets a call informing him that his team will be allowed into the playoffs after all because the team they lost to in the last game cheated. You only hear Grant's end of the conversation, but he repeats the callers question of "Am I sitting down?" with obvious confusion.
  • Played straight in La Bamba. Donna enters the room after the news of Ritchie's death has been announced. She missed it but wants to know why everyone is so upset. Her sobbing friend warns her, "You'd better sit down, Donna."
  • In 7 Zwerge, the Magic Mirror is reluctant to tell the Queen that Snow White is still alive.
    Mirror: You are the fairest my Queen, ... although well, when one considers it globally, then...
    Queen: What? I'm the fairest of them all!
    Mirror: Yes, well, "of them all" is currently... a bit exaggerated. Now when you exclude the dwarven lands,... then sure... But beyond the seven mountains by the seven dwarves... there is this Snow White and well...

Live-Action TV
  • In The Big Bang Theory episode "The Spaghetti Catalyst", Sheldon tells Leonard to sit down. Leonard informs Sheldon that he's already lying in bed, which should be good enough.
  • Played with in the Quantum Leap episode "Miss Deep South," in which Sam has leapt into a beauty pageant contestant. Al comes bearing bad news, and insists that Sam sit down before he hears it. Sam sits down and his skirt's crinoline cage hits him in the face. Al relents, "I think you better stand up, Sam."
  • Dexter did this in the 2010 season opener when presenting news of his wife's death.
  • Dateline NBC:
    Chris Hansen: Why don't you take a seat over there?
  • Mash has this exchange over the phone:
    General-of-the-week: Are you sitting down, Henry?
    Henry Blake: (stands up) No sir!
    GOTW: Maybe you should, I have some exciting news.
    Henry: (sits down) Yes sir!
    Hawkeye: They're giving you calisthenics over the phone?
  • The police officers of Law & Order frequently asked relatives of victims to sit down.
  • In Off Centre, Chau says that bad news can be softened by ending it with making your voice high and making it seem like a question. Later, Mike's girlfriend breaks up with him trying the same thing.
  • In the World War II Mini Series The Sinking Of The Laconia, Captain Sharp says tells Junior Officer Thomas Mortimer "You better sit down", before presenting him with a telegram. Mortimer doesn't sit down; he merely asks, "All of them, sir?". As one can probably guess, his wife and children have all been killed in an air raid.
  • On ER whenever a doctor has to break the news of a patients death. Results vary.
  • In Horrible Histories, none of the courtiers, for obvious reasons, want to tell Henry VIII his wife is unfaithful, so they call on the court jester to deliver the news. The jester manages to do so in a way that keeps Henry from reacting until the jester's out of the room. "Hmm, do you think he was trying to tell me something?"
  • In Three's Company, Jack lies to his grandfather about being a doctor to impress him and uses this to guilt Terri into letting him use an empty office at the hospital to maintain the charade.

Music
  • Tout Va Très Bien Madame La Marquise: A marquise calls her servants to ask how things are going. They tell her that all is well (tout va très bien), except her horse died. Then they describe the series of events that led to this calamity, with each link in the chain more horrible than the one before it.
    • The horse died in the stable fire, the stable caught fire because the castle was on fire, the castle was on fire because the marquis knocked over a candle, he knocked over a candle because he'd shot himself, he'd shot himself because he learned he was bankrupt. But other than that, everything's going fine.

New Media
  • The title of this article includes this trope in its name.

Newspaper Comics
  • A Pearls Before Swine strip has Pig call Goat to ask if he's sitting down. Goat freaks out and asks what's happened, and Pig replies: "Oh, it's just comfy."

Radio
  • Done in The Navy Lark between Mister Phillips and the ship's Chaplain in a very confused conversation about a pregnant racehorse (which the Chaplain thinks it is a girl Phillips has got knocked up due to how Phillips broached the subject), with the Chaplain being so shocked that after having had to sit down he declares "I think I better stand up again".

Web Animation
  • Red vs. Blue: Grif couldn't sit down because both of his kneecaps were shattered, so Sarge ordered Simmons to prepare catching him when they had to explain (again) that his Sister had died.

Webcomics
  • During one page of Friendly Hostility, Fox and Colin are given some heavy news. Fox says he needs to sit down, to which Colin replies 'You already are'.
  • In The Order of the Stick, Haley had some difficulty trying to figure out how to tell Celia that her boyfriend was dead (Albeit only temporarily.) Sick of wasting time, Belkar decided it was best to just shout it in the bluntest manner possible.
    Belkar: OK, that's IT! I can't take the euphemisms any more! Roy is dead!

Western Animation
  • Barbara Gordon does this in The New Batman Adventures episode where she fear-toxin hallucinated that Gordon had turned against Batman and gotten both of them killed after she died in the tights. She intends to tell him the truth, and has him sit down before she starts. He cuts her off to maintain deniability, though, as it's implied he already knew.
  • Played with in The Proud Family, where the dad says they shouldn't bother sitting down 'cause they're just gonna stand up again before revealing something exciting.
  • Spoofed in the TaleSpin episode "Bearly Alive", when Rebbecca got a call about a broken plane part. The guy on the other line said she should sit down, but she already was. The guy told her to stand up, and then sit down.
  • In Dragons: Riders of Berk, Astrid calls it "the honey and the hatchet." First you say something nice to soften the blow, then you hit them with the bad news. When Hiccup tries it on his dad, Stoic sees right through it.

Web Original
Bread, Eggs, Milk, SquickDialogueBreak Them by Talking
Bad MachineryImageSource/Web ComicsThe Bechdel Test

alternative title(s): You Better Sit Down
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