“I have something to say that may be difficult to hear.”
- Delivering bad news is a tricky operation that must done with empathy, patience, and sensitivity.
- These types of messages must include the following elements:
- Straight, easy-to-understand summary of the bad news.
- An acknowledgement of the pain/inconvenience.
- Information about either what they can do about it (what’s in their control) or what someone is doing about it.
- Deliver it in person if possible - it’s so much easier to create an emotional connection with someone face to face.
- Listen to understand - the simple act of listening goes a long way to expressing empathy.
- Talk a beat slower - you’ll want to speak faster, but their brains will have a harder time keeping up with you.
- Use the Rule of Threes - our brains have a much easier time taking in and retaining information when it’s presented in three main points.
- Be honest and transparent - be vulnerable in being honest; it’s a great way to build trust in these situations.
Understanding the Brain Chemistry Behind High Emotion
Crisis and high stress changes our brain chemistry. Before even attempting to talk with upset people, you need to have a basic understanding of how our brains react to stress.
- Emotions must always come first, facts second.
- Visual cues matter - we rely on visual cues even more when we are stressed.
- Negative dominance theory - stress causes us to focus more on the negative than the positive.
- Hi <name>, can I grab you for a quick chat?
- I have some difficult news.
- I have something to say that may be difficult to hear.
- I want to be completely honest with you, and I want to do that.
- <Tell them the news in plain, easy-to-understand language>.
- I know that is a lot to take in, but I’m here to listen and to answer any questions you may have.
- What we’re going to do right now is <detail next steps, what they can do, what is being done>.
- Whatever you are feeling - anger, sadness, confusion, betrayal - is completely understandable.
- I’m here for you.
- Is there someone I can call for you?
- Can I get you a glass of water?
Delivering Bad News: Communicating Well Under Pressure
Jack's boss has just told him that, due to budget cuts, several people in his team will have to go. Jack manages a happy, successful, team, and he has no idea how to deliver this bad news. It's possible that you've experienced a similar situation, or will have to face one like it in the future.
Delivering Bad or Life-Altering News
Delivering serious, bad, or life-altering news to a patient is one of the most difficult tasks physicians encounter. Broadly defined as information that may alter a patient's view of his or her future, bad news may include information related to a chronic disease (e.g., diabetes mellitus), a life-altering illness (e.g., multiple sclerosis), or an injury leading to significant change (e.g., a season-ending knee injury).
A Better Way to Deliver Bad News
The Idea in Brief That dreaded moment has come: You're delivering critical feedback to an employee. Despite your best efforts, the conversation is a disaster: tempers flare, the employee gets defensive, your relationship grows strained. What happened? Like most managers, you probably inadvertently sabotaged the meeting-preparing for it in a way that stifled honest discussion and prevented you from delivering feedback effectively.