Sometimes No News is Good News
Posted by Pamela S. on Friday, July 27th, 2012
Imagine if you turned on the television and the news reporter on your local channel said that nothing newsworthy had happened today. No murders or thefts, no major car accidents. The news hour was reduced to the kind of filler that is used to bring humor to a normal news day, like Anderson Cooper’s the Ridiculist. That isn’t going to happen, but wouldn’t it be lovely if it did? If all of life was like this photo, we would never have to break bad news.
When is no news good news?
When you hire an investigator to determine if your spouse is cheating, and the investigator follows him for days, only to find that he is secretly working a second job because he is saving up to buy you that new car you needed.
Unfortunately, these things rarely happen. We end up giving people more bad news than good. It is rare when there is nothing to report. How do you break bad news to someone and let them keep their dignity?
If there is one profession that has to break distressing news more often than law enforcement, it is those who work in medicine. Most physicians are wonderful, and they are trained in giving a patient bad news, but some don’t have any bedside manner. Years ago, I had breast cancer, and when I went to see the doctor to get my results, he said “Oh, it’s just a little cancer, nothing to worry about.” I guess he was trying to soften the blow. Hearing you have a serious illness is a hard pill to swallow, so some doctors like to add a little sugar. I like people to tell it like it is, but not everyone can handle that approach.
Maybe you don’t have to be as candid as this bus ad, but sugarcoating bad news isn’t always the best way to go about it.
If you are in a profession where you have to lay some unpleasant news on someone, you need to know how to do it properly. Whether you are a police officer calling on a family to tell them about a death, a private investigator telling a client that his wife is cheating with his best friend, or an employer telling someone that he or she is being laid off, it is uncomfortable for both parties.
Many experts have written on how to be the bearer of bad news. Cancer specialist Dr. Robert Buckman teaches doctors as well as executives at IBM and other companies the art of breaking bad news. In an article on Fast Company, Dr. Buckman says that you have to start by listening and end by summarizing. He also says you can’t let emotions affect you, but you have to legitimize the emotions of the person.
In an article on Inc.com, David G. Javitch, an organizational psychologist, author, leadership specialist and president of Javitch Associates in Newton, Massachusetts, says that when breaking bad news to an employee, you can’t avoid or procrastinate. Putting off grim news will only make things worse. Wouldn’t you like to know that the company is closing three months in advance, so you have time to look for another job? A company I worked for called us all in on a Friday and told us that as of Monday, the company would no longer exist. Not the way to share this message with over 20 employees.
Tech Repubic has “10 Tips for Delivering Bad News.” The article makes a very strong point that is relevant to our industry. Don’t promise on something you may not be able to deliver on. That will decrease your chances of having to give bad news. The writer also mentions offering alternatives, although this isn’t possible in every situation.
There are numerous articles on this topic, so it is obviously one of those things that causes us anxiety. An article on CBS News recommends that you are honest and genuine with the individual and show empathy. Plan your approach in advance.
I have had to break bad news during the course of my career. I would add, make sure that you have the right location for your talk; someplace where there will be no interruptions, and there is an expectation of privacy. If there are going to be emotions, you don’t want to add to the hurt by having that person leave your office and have to walk through a room full of people in tears, or distress. Remember when you were given bad news? What did you appreciate about the way it was told, and what bothered you? Everyone is different. If you know the person, you know if they like their news sugarcoated or given straight up. If you don’t know them, be gentle but honest. Allow them time to process and to ask questions. Be prepared to answer “Why?”
This goes without saying, but in this world you have to make it clear; never break bad news over email or via text. Sometimes doing it over the phone is inevitable, but please make it personal.
PI Now has an excellent article on this topic, focusing on private investigation. Again, the article stresses, don’t promise on what you can’t deliver. Give your client frequent updates. If the investigator is burnt or worse, waiting to inform your client isn’t going to make it easier. If your client isn’t familiar with investigations and surveillance, it pays to educate. Let them know that investigators occasionally lose a subject or the surveillance could become compromised in some way, due to circumstances sometimes beyond our control.
Saving your client money by informing them that something can’t be done or isn’t going to work will save your reputation. This applies to any business. It will also save you the stress of telling them later that you have used up the budget and have no news to tell.
Former FBI Assistant Director Tom Sheer has recruited the best from the FBI, DEA, IRS and Secret Service to build a formidable team at Sheer Investigations. Our private investigators have the sensitivity and experience to handle the most delicate investigations.