Most people go into medicine to help other people. It is not just a job; it is a mission. Without doctors, the world would be a rather grim place.
Think about all the people who died from germs that we don’t even bother to consider due to the regular application of soap and water. A little sanitation goes a long way. But back in the day, they didn’t even have a little sanitation. They also didn’t know about things such as sterilization and pasteurization. Ours is a particularly privileged place in history. We owe the early medical professionals a debt of gratitude.
Pregnant mothers are among those who owe a lot to modern medicine. Childbirth used to be a highly risky business for both mother and child. Infant mortality was rampant. One of the reasons life expectancy was so low in the past is because of the lack of prenatal and postnatal care. Despite all the progress, all doctors have to learn to deliver bad news because nature is still red in tooth and claw. Yet the average person has not learned how to deliver bad news very well. Doctors are experts at it. Here are a few things they can teach us if we will only listen:
How to Be Sure
You don’t want to deliver bad news if you are not sure of the circumstances. A false negative can be just as emotionally devastating as a false positive. Doctors use the most accurate testing possible because when testing for cervical cancer and other such ailments, the key is knowledge. Doctors will often have a sample retested just to be sure. Sometimes, they will order additional tests. They tend to be very good about checking twice before taking an action that could harm you physically or mentally.
We would all be better served by taking a doctor’s approach to delivering bad news. They hold their tongue until they are sure of the result. We often deliver bad news before doing our due diligence. Like Chicken Little, we go screaming to everyone who will listen that the sky is falling. We cry wolf when there is no wolf. Then, when the news really is bad, no one will listen. Be quick to spread good news and optimism. Be slow to spread bad news and wait until definitive results are in. When you have a pattern of doing that, people will listen to you more when it comes time to deliver bad news.
How to speak with Empathy
One thing that making a career of psychology will teach you is what it means to develop empathy for other people. Once you learn that empathy, you will be able to deliver bad news in a truly sensitive manner. Delivering bad news in an insensitive manner can be deadly. Not everyone can process negative information as well as others. Insensitivity can push them over the edge. It is a precipice from which there is often no return.
How a person discovers bad news is a contributing factor to how they ultimately process it. Some will have an easier time with it if the news comes from someone they love and trust. It is usually not a good idea to withhold bad news from someone who needs to know it. There is a good chance they will learn it anyways. But if it doesn’t come from you, they might feel betrayed. So learn what doctors have to teach you about empathy and you will become much better at delivering bad news.
How to Get It Over with Quickly
Bad news is made worse when it is unnaturally prolonged. We tend to stretch it out because we don’t want to deliver it in the first place. We want to say something, anything other than the bad thing we have to report. We want to try to pad it with as much cushion as possible. This never helps. You don’t want to rip the bandage off slowly.
When it comes to delivering bad news, you will want to be sure, empathetic, and to the point. If you don’t, the person receiving the news will suffer twice. That is not any good for anyone.