Evening Sessions #11: Breaking Bad News

Ever had a client who wanted you to tell them what they wanted to hear not what they needed to hear?

Sure you have. Who hasn’t?

The mere fact that you are often a fresh pair of eyes on a project means you might uncover truths that your client simply doesn’t want to hear. Problem is its’ still your role to tell them. After all, you’re there to add value for your client.

So how do you do it?

Well, having trained as a doctor ‘Breaking Bad News’ is something we’re trained to manage in an empathic but structured manner. Now clearly, the bad news in healthcare can be truly awful and I know from experience how difficult it can be. However, there are some parallels you can take with you when talking to a client about cuts, resources, restructuring or whatever facts you have to tell them.

So without further ado here is my approach:

What do they know? 

Start by asking the client what they understand about their situation, how they feel things are going and what they believe are the solutions to their perceived set of problems. Ask them what they think your role is and what they think you have been doing since they sought my consult.

What’s been happening?

Explain how you addressed the task they set you, who you involved and what you did. Explain any quantitative tools you used but generally focus on why you used the methods you did and how long it took.

What does it all mean?

Then show them, most often using graphics, what you found and explain what it means for their firm in a candid manner.

How do you feel?

Ask them how they feel about the results at this point. Is it a shock or something they suspected all along? Were they prepared for what you had just said and presented. Give your client time to pause, think and encourage questions.

I have a plan, what do you think?

Once you think they have had enough time to digest what you have told them and you have answered their initial questions offer to provide a solution. Sometimes clients may want to go away and think about what you have said and discuss any plans another time. However, if they seem pro-active and ready to move forward then offer your solution and encourage further questions.

This may all sound like common sense and you’ll only get comfortable doing this with experience but having a structure to build rapport will serve both you and your client well.

Consulting isn’t about you forcing your ideas on your client. You don’t necessarily know best.

Rather, consulting is a journey you take together, side by side.

Ultimately, it all boils down to one thing.


Dr Saif Abed

CEO and Co-Founder

Abed Graham Healthcare Strategies Ltd


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One thought on “Evening Sessions #11: Breaking Bad News

  1. Pingback: Evening Sessions #14: Intensive Care Business | Dr Saif Abed

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