Last week I watched the PBS Frontline program “Being Mortal,” featuring Dr. Atul Gawande. A main focus of the show was the difficulty doctors have sharing bad news with terminal patients. Dr. Gawande spoke to doctors, patients and family members about the reluctance to utter discouraging words.
Because one of my clients is a St. Louis area hospice and because I am a fan of clear, concise communication, I found the program informative and instructive. There are lessons to be learned here that apply beyond the medical world.
Regarding situations that do not involve life or death, most of us can recall work/business occurrences when we were given unwelcome news: “we’re hiring someone else,” “we’re going with another agency” or “we are not at all interested.”
Our feelings may be hurt and we may be upset or angry. But, at least, the person delivering the news had the guts and integrity to communicate directly and clearly. It certainly beats being strung along and/or getting the scoop from a back channel source. I once learned, in the midst of what I thought to be productive contract negotiations, that my employer would not be renewing me. I found out from a media gossip website.
(I choose not to venture into the area of personal romantic relationships here, although some of these thoughts may apply in those circumstances as well.)
Yes, it can be difficult to tell a person something that he or she does not want to hear. But it is generally better to share that news than to say nothing.
Former Sony Pictures head Amy Pascal is quoted in last Friday’s New York Times as saying: “You should always say exactly what you think directly to people all the time. In the moment, the first time.” (She was referring to having been “fired,” rather than resigning, as had been reported.)
I would add that being tactful and respectful is to be desired when you share discouraging words. I’ve been told “no” politely and I’ve been told “no” rudely. I prefer the former.
(If interested, you can click HERE for a link to Frontline: Being Mortal. The program runs 54:11.)