Academic journal article College and University

The Art of Breaking Bad News: Lessons Learned at a Large Public University

Academic journal article College and University

The Art of Breaking Bad News: Lessons Learned at a Large Public University

Article excerpt

Not too long ago, a cute story circulated about a college coed who wrote home and told her parents that things could be better. She described how her car had been wrecked, she was dating a boy in a rock'n roll band, was de-pledged from her sorority, got all Fs on her midterms, was summoned to the dean's office, and just learned that she might be pregnant. Under her signature was a postscript that said, "Just kidding, Mom. All is well at school, but could you just put some money in my checking account as lam overdrawn ?"It is alia matter of how to break bad news and put things into perspective.

The purpose of this article is to reflect on how to break bad news. The style in which one breaks bad news at the collegiate level has implications both for the individual and for the institution. If not managed well by enrollment professionals, negative news can taint prospects, applicants, parents, and current students, blemishing the institution. The fallout is witnessed, at times, in less than positive public relations and/or less than positive employee morale. Bad news travels fast!

The breaking of bad news is deeply embedded in our popular culture and frequently is idolized in theater and cinematography. Potentially explosive situations often can be disarmed with creative language or preparation. Everyone remembers "Houston, we have a problem," the alleged statement made from Apollo 13 to Houston Space Command. Consider, too, "You're gonna need a bigger boat," which communicated bad news about a really big shark (Jaws). When Dirty Harry said, "Go ahead.. .make my day," one was certain that undesirable consequences were imminent if instructions were not followed. If only enrollment services professionals could frame the delivery of bad news so dramatically - or comically.

From a psychological viewpoint, the negative feelings that result from bad news constitute a valid reaction to a perceived loss. The Kiibler-Ross model (1969) suggests that when one is threatened with loss, five sequential stages ensue: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and, eventually, acceptance. Kiibler-Ross first discussed the model that bears her name in her groundbreaking book On Death and Dying.

Even though the focus of the Kiibler-Ross model is death, the model is applicable to other types of loss. For example, how many times has one heard the initial stage of denial in the expression, "I can't believe it!" or "No way!" The second stage, anger, frequently is exemplified in telephone calls and appointments with prospects, parents, and students. Behavior exemplifying anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance also is familiar to enrollment professionals. Although enrollment professionals typically are not psychiatrists, rudimentary knowledge of the KiiblerRoss model may help them design processes and procedures for recognizing and dealing with such behaviors.

For long marchers in the field of Enrollment Services, it seems only yesterday that one could effectively use the mild quip, "What part of NO don't you understand?" The days of this tact are far gone and polished customer service strategies are the order of the day.

For years, the Office of University Admissions at Kennesaw State (ksu) has pursued traditional "high-touch" operations enhanced with an array of 24 ? 7 electronic, Web-based tools. Many of these tools have been adapted for use in managing negative feelings and have proven advantageous for better serving prospects, applicants, and current students when breaking bad news.

"Unwelcome news" includes such diverse issues as ineligibility for admission; tuition residency classification; closed classes; ineligibility for financial aid; lapsed deadline(s); academic dismissal; lost/misplaced documents; transfer credit evaluations; conditional admission with consequences; academic probation; wait listing; denied appeals; and failed degree audit check out.

KSU's Enrollment Services uses selected 24x7 interactive technology to help manage the impact of bad news. …

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