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Nobody Wants to Be the Bearer of Bad News

Nobody Wants to Be the Bearer of Bad News

June 11, 2021 by Julie Elliott, President

“Ouch

My elbow had been hurting for a couple of months and I was pretty sure it was a tendon. When the nurse was checking me in, she mentioned she had trouble with her elbow and proceeded to show me a knot protruding from the joint and said she’d known others with elbow issues. “It’s good you’re getting it checked out,” she said solemnly, “because my friend’s friend had the same thing, thought it was nothing but it was cancer and they had to amputate her arm. The nurse practitioner will be in shortly.”

While my injury turned out to be minor, the whole experience that day made me think about delivering bad news. Timing and tone really make a difference when the recipient may not be ready for what you have to say.

While cooperatives have many positive messages, not all are great, so here are four basic reminders about being the bearer of you-know-what:

  1. Inform the people affected. If a disconnect notice only applies to members with past due balances, make sure they are the ones to get the details. Using data to pinpoint the audience can be key to delivering the right message to the right audience at the right time.
  2. Use all the platforms available to get the word out, and make sure the message is consistent across all of them.
  3. Enlist an outsider to read your content and give feedback. We are notorious in the utility industry for using jargon that we understand but which may leave a typical customer baffled about the meaning.
  4. It’s nice to share, so be sure to share your message internally first. Remember, operations folks and others throughout your organization have daily contact with customers. You’ll want to ensure they have appropriate information to respond to questions so that your message is cohesive.

While we might prefer shying away from bad news, handling it professionally will yield positive results. After all, people want to know what’s going on. 

Just like friends who see a brace on my arm and wonder what happened. The common term is tennis elbow, but I haven’t played tennis in years. I think I’ll tell people that’s what it is anyway.

Tennis elbow sounds better than a more personalized name that reflects the repetitive motion which could have triggered my pain. “I have chips and salsa elbow,” just doesn’t sound right.

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