Learning from Your Dentist: The Keys to Delivering Bad News

By Joey Asher

Category: Practice, Other, Nerves

Many of us have to deliver unwanted messages. For example, my dentist recently told me that some of my old fillings were deteriorating and needed to be replaced.

“They’ve served you well for many years,” she told me. “But those old fillings don’t last forever.”

That was an unwanted message. And yet I was in the dentist’s chair earlier this week, my Novocain-numbed mouth pried open, undergoing extensive dental work.

As I was lying there, I settled on four keys to delivering unwanted messages.

Build a relationship with the listener first. One of the reasons that I accepted the lousy news from my dentist is that I had a relationship with her and trusted her.

An attorney for a large Atlanta company complained that she gets angry pushback whenever she shows up at a meeting and tells the group that a program runs afoul of regulations.

I suggested that she start taking these folks to lunch and getting to know them personally, building a trusting relationship so that when she has to deliver bad news, it will go down easier.

I also suggested that she talk to the key players about the issue before the meeting. Those conversations build trust and get buy-in.

Be nice. When my dentist broke the news to me that I had a lot of dental work in my future, she was nice about it. Her tone said, “I know that you’re not going to like this. And I wouldn’t either.”

There was not a trace of gloating in her voice.

Many of us don’t get this idea. Let’s admit it: it’s fun to be right. And it’s sinfully gratifying to rub it in with the person who was wrong. “That’s justice!”

I love gloating as much as anyone. But I get it out of my system alone. I have delivered some Oscar-worthy speeches in my car with the radio blaring. But when I’m with a client, I’m always nice.

Be clear as to next steps. My dentist didn’t just tell me that my fillings were deteriorating. She showed me a series of graphic photographs of my teeth, pointing to the problem areas (yuck). She then gave a detailed explanation about the procedure to repair the problem. The clear plan made it all go down easier.

Similarly, don’t just tell someone that they’re idea stinks. Tell them what to do next. And make it clear that you’re going to be there to implement the plan.

Be accountable with Q&A. If you’re going to drill my teeth, I’m going to want some answers. Upon receiving the bad news, I had a bunch of questions about how this all could happen. She fielded them all with ease.Similarly, if you want people to accept your tough message, be accountable. That means being ready for the tough questions.

The harsher the news, the more time you should leave for Q&A. I once told a client that the actual bad news should take only a quarter of the time with the rest of the time reserved for handling the hostile questions.

Sometimes your ideas are going to be about as welcome as dental work. If you deliver the message with care, you won’t lose the patient.

Speechworks is a communication and selling skills coaching firm. We teach professionals how to craft and deliver complex messages in a simple, persuasive manner. Since 1986, through workshops and one-on-one instruction, we have helped countless individuals become better presenters and communicators. You can reach us at 404.266.0888, speech@speechworks.net or on the web at www.speechworks.net

Joey Asher

President of Speechworks, a selling and communication skills coaching company in Atlanta. He has worked with hundreds of business people helping them learn how to communicate in a way that connects with clients. His new book 15 Minutes Including Q&A: a Plan to Save the World from Lousy Presentations” is available now. He is also the author three previous books including “How to Win a Pitch: The Five Fundamentals That Will Distinguish You from the Competition”, “Selling and Communication Skills for Lawyers” and “Even A Geek Can Speak.” He can be reached at 404-266-0888 or joey@speechworks.net


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