Giving negative information: What we can learn from healthcare
Wednesday, July 22, 2015
In the course of our work either as managers, HR professionals or consultants, the day comes when we have to provide some kind of news our audience is not going to be thrilled to hear.
In recent conversations with several neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) nurses, I picked up the following four pointers on how to deliver bad news as smoothly as possible.
Consider state of mind
Fortunately, it is difficult for most of us to imagine telling parents bad news about their child. Most of the news we have to deliver pales in comparison on the scale of things people do not want to hear.
However, many business owners have invested their lives in their companies, and listening to negative reports can be equally devastating and tough to hear. As such, the first thing to do is to think about your audience and specifically try to understand the context leading up to the situation.
When parents arrive in the NICU, it can be extremely helpful for the nurses to know whether the parents were aware they were going to be there or if it is a total surprise. Understanding how prepared your audience is for the news can help you tailor the message accordingly. For example, if what you are about to say is going to be a total shock to them, go slow, keep it simple and repeat yourself.
Doing what we do for so long, we can easily forget that everyone does not know our work as well as we do. In the NICU, nurses have to re-explain machines, terms and daily activities that have become so routine they likely do not think twice about them.
Look through your presentation and ensure you have not glossed over terms that may be new, and beware of any assumptions you may be making about the content knowledge of the audience. This can be particularly helpful if you are presenting to a board, a group often made up of highly educated people who conversely are not involved in the business on a daily basis and may need a balance of hand-holding and sophisticated information.
How infuriating or frustrating would it be for a parent to hear bad news from a nurse who was checking her phone during the conversation?
As detached as you may be, remember that your audience wants to see that you care about the situation, too. Show up, be present mentally and be ready with some examples of similar situations in which you have provided guidance and helped someone through it.
Set a baseline
Use these guidelines to help prepare your approach. Then, when you are ready to begin your presentation, take a moment to establish the facts and context of the situation.
In situations when you are presenting negative information, it is critical to ensure you eliminate as much misunderstanding as possible to avoid eroding your message. Get everyone on the same page and deliver the content as simply, clearly and succinctly as possible.
Let your audience guide the pace and keep these tips in mind as you progress.
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