The duty of delivering bad news such as redundancy may fall on any of us at any time, often at short notice. In the HR profession, this is classified as a ‘client challenge’, and it is the subject of extensive verbal skills training in

which the mindset of the listener is explored in depth. But the mindset of the speaker also needs to be analysed. We humans try to dodge pain and stress, and so we shy away from telling people what they don’t want to hear.

I once worked regularly for a driving school, as driving instructors are in frequent need of stress relief in the course of their daily work with learners. But the manager told me that his colleagues at the driving-test centre used to suffer an unusual form of stress. As you would expect, they were rehearsed in the standard announcements about pass or fail. But after about a year, they would suddenly start feeling awkward about failing an applicant, and there seemed to be no explanation for this.

So one day, I went to visit the chief driving examiner to see if I could help. He said it was quite irrational, but many of his examiners reported the same curious stress symptoms. They would almost freeze up at the moment of making the announcement. Yet they had been taught the correct wording and were not having to think about it.

I told him that this was just the trouble. When I instruct people in motivational speaking and presentations, I tell them not to recite the lines, but to express the sentiments in a spontaneous way, to convey sincerity and touch a nerve. Someone failing their driving test is under stress and does not want to hear a script. They want personal dialogue, with the examiner looking them in the eye and speaking to them individually.

I suggested to him that I coach all the new examiners in this stress relief philosophy, and he agreed to try it out. It turned out to be a successful new departure in managing stress, and also an effective team building initiative.

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