Psychiatrist Administrator III: Delivering bad news

November 15th, 2010 by gelenberg Leave a reply »

My last two blogs have been an ultra-brief “crash course” on what to do if one day you awaken to find yourself in the role of an administrator. Today’s continues that course.

Most of us enjoy making others happy. We became doctors to alleviate illness and pain. We chose psychiatry to diminish psychic suffering and anxiety. How unpleasant it is when we become instruments to cause pain or negative affects—anxiety, sadness, anger. And as managers sometimes we must do just that.

On the milder end of the bad-news spectrum comes the raise or promotion you won’t give. More severe, of course, is letting someone go. Even worse is if you have to dismiss someone and report the person to other authorities—like criminal investigators or a medical board.

Human resource specialists and attorneys can help you with specifics—like the nature of a severance arrangement, the presence of another person in the meeting, taking notes, the timeline, and written communication.  At a personal level, I have found it helpful to back my own ego out of the equation (as far as possible) and to attempt a measure of calm detachment. I remind myself that whatever the employee did—even a legal, ethical, or moral infraction—was not directed at me, even though it puts me in a painful position. I may need to rehearse for a few days to get myself in the Buddha-like frame of mind. And sometimes I’ve taken a sleeping pill the night before. And I’ve made sure my schedule wasn’t frenetic right before or after the tense meeting. If I succeed in keeping my own perspective, I can be calm, respectful, and even compassionate at the unpleasant event. I can truly feel sorry for the individual and for the act I must complete. By my voice, words, and body language, I can communicate empathy and respect. It has made me feel better, and I like to think the likelihood of unpleasant outcomes has been lowered.

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