Are You the Bearer of Bad News?

Are You the Bearer of Bad News?

Before finding my passion for nutrition I earned my bachelor’s degree in Drama. As a Drama major I was required to participate in as many of the university’s theatrical productions as my schedule would allow. The most fun I had during a production was as an extra when I had walk-on scenes with a comedian. Jim Pelley kept me in stitches backstage every night. But once the show ended we lost touch and I didn’t see him until several years later.

It was the early ‘90s, and I was working for an aerospace company, attending a two-day Human Resources training seminar. (I know – from drama to aerospace – crazy, right?) To my joy and surprise Jim was the opening keynote speaker! And just like in college, he was hilarious.

Now you’re probably wondering why an aerospace company would hire a guy like Jim as an opening keynote. What Jim specialized in was the power of humor in the work place and particularly in demanding situations. His talk was funny, but also poignant, because the rest of the two days was about how we would handle laying off hundreds of employees in the coming months. The tools we learned from Jim that day came in handy as we faced this dreaded task.

So, what on earth do nutritionists have in common with Human Resources professionals who are laying people off? Sometimes nutrition professionals deliver sad news too.

This reminds me of my client (we’ll call her Louise) who is a dear family friend. Louise came to see me because she wanted to lose weight. During our first consultation I learned that a few years prior she had undergone surgery to remove a foot of her colon. She complained that she had major digestive issues, and that her doctor insisted there was no connection between her diet and digestive disturbances.

It’s important to stop here and tell you that Louise is known for her award-winning heirloom tomatoes. An Italian-American, she favored foods drenched in her delicious, homemade tomato sauce.

Of course, you’ve guessed it... Louise’s lab results indicated she was highly sensitive to tomatoes. Breaking this news to her was going to be a nightmare. The first thing she did was cry. When I asked what she was feeling she said, “I’m crying because I’ve been asking my doctor this question for years, knowing that the answer I was getting was wrong. I let him take a foot of my colon, when I should’ve gone to see a nutritionist instead. I’m crying because I’m kicking myself.” Then she looked at me and said, “Wait a minute. Why am I kicking myself? I should be kicking the doctor!” And we both burst into laughter.

She did it for me – Louise injected humor into this sad consultation. The laughter gave us a chance to come up for air from a very serious conversation, gain a little perspective and look at things from a different angle. It also opened the door for more humor, so I showed Louise this video of Jim. Afterwards, we laughed about ‘bad tomatoes’ and ‘bad doctors,’ and that led us to the point where we could talk about how she would proceed in her tomato-less life. She lost 30 pounds in three months.

I see Louise at family gatherings and she proudly tells me that she continues to steer clear of ‘bad tomatoes’ and ‘bad doctors,’ which always makes us laugh. She still loves to grow her beautiful heirlooms, which she proudly donates to friends, family and neighbors.

Thinking back on that difficult conversation, I’m grateful for the levity that allowed Louise to move past the tears and into a mindset of dealing with the task at hand.

I’m not suggesting that you become a jokester or to make light of the challenges your clients face. But I have to say that having done my research in advance of Louise’s visit, and having that video on hand to further lighten the mood came in handy. So, the next time you deliver difficult news to a client, look for ways to bring a tiny bit of levity to the situation. It could do wonders... for you both!

Healthy regards,

Nicole Hodson, NC, BCHNTM
NANP Executive Director

P.S. NANP’s opening keynote at this year’s conference will be Dr. Lise Alschuler, who will talk about Happiness: Applying the Science and Holism of Happiness to Transform Clinical Practice​. Plus, we’ll have our first-ever Ambassador of Fun, Ashlee Rowland there to welcome everyone and to inject our event with some levity for a great learning and growing experience. I hope to see you there – with a smile on, of course!

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