HR Bedside Manner

“Tell me the truth, Doc… how long do I have?”

Have you ever been under the knife? Consider your state of mind when you feel especially vulnerable. Not only are you subjected to physical exposure via hospital gown ass-flap, your mental state reminds you that everything can change—you are figuratively and

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emotionally exposed.

Being at the mercy of others can be debilitating as our present and future become a fog in an instant. When you find yourself in this “place,” there’s really only one thing you want.

“Talk to me.”

Unfortunately, to recognize good bedside manner, sometimes you must be exposed to the poor variety. Sounds like a simple request, but it’s a skill not everyone possesses and even fewer choose to master.

Despite good intentions, business leaders attempt to manage uncertainty as opposed to managing expectations. It’s easy to justify—there’s just too many variables that could change the outcome, so we will default to two poor communication practices:

  1. Silence: Communication vacuums are often mentioned as engagement “killers,” as individuals are left to their own devices to develop meaning to the events surrounding them.
  2. Insincerity: Not necessarily said with malicious intent, but communication without sincerity can be a career killer for an otherwise talented leader.

Why does this happen? Fear.

Fear that we’ll screw up the message. Fear that employees can’t handle the truth. Fear that we don’t have enough information. Fear that we might be wrong after all is said and done. It’s not (99% of the time) a matter of someone wanting to deliberately lie or deceive their employees, but you be the judge of how it’s interpreted. Uncertainty is different than “change;” uncertainty is personal, change is process. Dealing with our own uncertainty is tough enough, attempting to manage the uncertainty of others is fruitless.

What we want as employees (and patients) is for someone to give us the information available. I’d rather know that there’s going to be pain, soreness, discomfort, and even possible outcomes that I might not like.

Give it to me straight, Doc. I can handle it.

FOT Background Check

John Whitaker
“Whit” is an HR Business Strategist and Staffing Professional: he primarily works in the healthcare industry, because... healthcare. A Texan, he tends to amuse us (okay, he amuses himself) with colloquialisms and a cowboy’s view on our industry. John honed his HR chops at Alcon Laboratories and CVS Caremark before starting HR Hardball™ in 2010 where he has been fortunate enough to partner with a slew of Fortune 500 companies interested in shaking their HR tree. You can email Whit, find him on LinkedIn, or read more of his brain-droppings at


  1. Jayla New says:

    I worked in and HR department where silence was the main “communication” style. It was the most uneasy time of my life. You never knew what was going on and if you had something to do with “it.” And that was within the department, so imagine how those outside of the department (with less info than us) felt. Definitely terrible HR bedside manner.

  2. Jayla,
    I appreciate the transparency, and the description of “uneasiness” that resulted from the silence. It creates quite a bit of animosity towards HR when they play the role of “keeper of the secrets”

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