From the September 2010 issue of Research Magazine • Subscribe!

September 1, 2010

The Other Side

In last month's column, you may recall my bravado front regarding my upcoming cancer surgery. Hopefully, by the end of this article you'll realize that I miraculously pulled though and have regained almost 75 percent of my original wit. A regimented vacuum therapy should pull out the remaining 25 percent within a year or so.

So what have I learned by this experience? For one thing, I've learned that an unexpected bomb of bad news can generate a wide variety of reactions from people and...believe it or not, they're not all helpful.

Have you ever considered what you (or your staff) say to someone when they dish you a spoonful of "I have some bad news"? As financial advisors you get more than your fair share of these calls. I assure you -- the way you handle these contacts can leave a strong impression on the bearer of bad news.

Over the past couple of months I've been able to observe this phenomenon from the other side. After a thorough analysis, I have uncovered some distinct personalities. If your goal is to provide some form of comfort and support, I recommend you avoid taking on the following personas:

  • Mr. One-Up-Manship. (I got this one a lot.) "Oh yours is nothing. My uncle had cancer everywhere. He was in the hospital for a month before he died. I'm sure you'll be fine."
  • Tony Robbins / Deepak Chopra. (This one I found to be the most uncomfortable.) "C'mon Bill. You can beat this thing! Cancer won't beat you! Have a positive attitude and you'll live forever! Give me a smile! I'm sure you'll be fine."
  • Mr. Horror Story. (Not helpful.) "My buddy had that same surgery. He's not doing very well. Not well at all. Did you know you could go impotent from that surgery? I'm pretty sure he's impotent... I'm sure you'll be fine."

I'm convinced the majority of my contacts actually intended their wishes to be well wishes. They just missed their mark. The most difficult observation in all this is the recognition that at one point or another, I've obliviously been all three of the above-mentioned gentlemen to others. Thankfully, you can teach an old dog a new trick or two.

There was also another group of friends and acquaintances that actually did make me feel better. Those are the ones I really remember. What did these people do that left me feeling warm and fuzzy? It's hard to pin-point anything specific. I think it was the simple gestures I appreciated most. They asked me how I was feeling and didn't expect me to act interested in Aunt Mildred's pancreas transplant. They asked if there was anything I needed; is there anything they could do. Some are even still asking. (I don't know how much longer I can string them along.).

As much as I hate to admit it, people that sent or brought food got lumped in with the good group. Even though one guy was a Mr. Horror Story and another was a Ms. One-Up-Manship, I did let their bribe of dinner and a gift basket sway my better judgment. Hey, I'm only human. It's my cancer and I can do what I want.

So what do I recommend you do when you get a load of bad news dumped on your lap? The biggest thing is to keep the conversation about them. If you find yourself tracing your family roots while attempting to make a point, you might want to pull up.

Ask if there is anything you can do to help. Offer to take out the trash or clean up the dog droppings in the yard. Odds are they won't take you up on it and you'll earn a whole bunch of brownie points.

Or... you can do what I'm going to do in the future: Send a bunch of food. Bon appetit!

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