The only thing worse than delivering bad news is receiving it. This week I’ve been on the receiving end when I am typically on the delivering end. When you are a veterinarian, you deliver bad news on the daily whether it be a bad diagnosis, an expensive invoice or employee feedback. But this week has been rough and it got me thinking…is there a right way and a wrong way to deliver bad news? Yes. There is. Here are five mistakes to avoid if you are delivering bad news.
Don't let them see it coming
Receiving bad news is the worst, especially when you have no idea you are about to get it. Simple phrases like “I have something I need to talk to you about” make a huge difference in allowing the person to get in the right frame of mind before you drop the bomb.
Do it in an email or text
Important emotions like empathy and sensitivity can only be delivered effectively in person or voice. Email and definitely text substantially increase the risk of misunderstandings by allowing personal filters to get in the way of reading the true meaning of the message. This is probably the worst way possible to deliver bad news because you can’t tell how the person is receiving your news.
Go off the grid right after you deliver the news
After you deliver bad news, people want to respond, ask questions and learn more. Most times, they had no idea you were about to share this news with them and not being available for discussion is inconsiderate and unprofessional.
Do it when the person can't respond
Receiving bad news messes you up, at least for a little while. Delivering bad news to a person at a time they won’t be able to process the information is definitely going to make it harder for them to recover. Not to mention possibly causing them to fail in other ways if they are walking into a big presentation or job interview.
Don't seek to understand
Everyone has their own version of what happened, and if you don’t make time or ask questions to hear their point of view, you are sure to make a bad situation worse.
We all have to deliver bad news eventually, either in relationships, at school or at work. It’s part of “adulting”. Being considerate of the other person and avoiding these pitfalls will make receiving the information much easier, whether they are losing a contract, learning their girlfriend is mad at them, or having a great customer switch their app service to a competitor.
Dr. Stacee Santi, CEO/Founder Vet2Pet
Dr. Stacee Santi is a 1996 DVM graduate from Colorado State University and the founder of Vet2Pet, a technology startup that builds personalized custom apps for veterinary practices. With over 20 years of clinical experience in small animal and emergency practice, Stacee brings an “in the trenches” approach to innovation and solutions for veterinary teams. She has also served as a medical advisory consultant for NVA for 5 years, medical director for a general/ER practice in Colorado as well as current President of the Colorado Veterinary Medical Association. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.