• Tara Humphrey

When you're the bearer of bad news

Difficult conversations at work are challenging and uncomfortable but ultimately unavoidable.

There are many blog posts out there to tell you how to manage these situations with key phrases to say, the ideal setup for a room, the type of environment and the mindset you should be in to deliver these conversations. However, despite this preparation, it can still be very difficult.

This post isn't the usual 'how-to' guide about managing difficult conversations. It’s an insight into how it feels to be the bearer of bad news and the one giving constructive feedback.

Firstly, a lot of time has gone in behind the scenes thinking about how best to deliver the feedback.

You question whether the issue is even an issue. You also question whether you are being too tough. Are you being fair and are you taking into consideration everything else that is going on?

Is this a formal conversation that needs to be documented, can it be a quick chat and do you need to gather and document evidence?

You wrestle with this decision because you don't want to feel like you're being unreasonable or make a potentially difficult conversation even worse with incorrect facts, statements or poor preparation.

I believe an effective leader is always reflecting on their own performance as well as the performance of the team.

I also believe that during difficult times we have to ask ourselves, what has our role and position been in this particular situation?

With these factors taken into consideration, along with advice from our closest confidants, we are in a position to decide we are going to raise the issue.

Once the feedback, conversation or decision has been delivered, then you are waiting for the next move to be made, being mindful that facial expressions and body language from the person delivering and receiving the message may not truly convey what is being felt.

If the receiver cries, even though it hard and upsetting to see, your composure may remain the same or stiffen because the feedback needs to be given and the consequences explained. However inside you're thinking 'oh s***' or you are fighting hard to not cry or display any anger or frustration yourself.

The receiver may shout, deny, quit on the spot, swear or just remain poised and in control. Meanwhile, you are trying to ready yourself with a suitable and professional response. This feels scary and uncomfortable while trying to keep your emotions under control.

So now the deed is done and you both have to face the office colleagues. They don’t know what has gone on or what has been said and the whispers start even if the conversation ends on a positive note... but it’s over (you hope!).

In my experience – there is always a sense of relief after the event. I may replay the conversation but I have learnt to move forward and act quickly when I see something that needs addressing. Afterwards, the past needs to remain in the past. BUT I’m by no means perfect – as my team will testify!

I hope this post resonates with some of you 😊.

Tara Humphrey is the founder of THC Primary Care, a leading healthcare consultancy specialising in workforce transformation and the only consultancy to have worked with 11 Training Hubs across South London, Kent, Surrey and Sussex.

Tara and her team also work with GP federations supporting the implementation of clinical services.

Tara has over 20 years of project management and business development experience across the private and public sector and has an MBA in Leadership and Management in Healthcare, is published in the London Journal of Primary Care and is the author of over 100 blogs.