Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Nancy Seibel.
It’s hard to tell anyone you have cancer, especially early on. Your emotions are still stirred up and raw. Every time you tell someone new about your condition, they react with shock, grief, or some combination of the two. You find yourself in a difficult, awkward place: You’re the source of their pain and telling them causes a resurgence of your own strong emotions.
It’s one thing to go through that experience when talking with those closest to you. It’s another to tell business colleagues and clients. Do you really have to do that? Well, no. But in my case, I decided the answer was, “Yes.” (Tweet this.)
Why I Told Clients about My Cancer Diagnosis
Here’s why. I’m a personal, life, health, and wellness coach, and an early childhood consultant. My relationships with clients are the context for the success of the work. To have safe, quality relationships, there has to be trust. And trust is established through sincerity, reliability, consistency, and care1.
How I Told My Clients about My Illness
Once I worked through the “why,” I was able to set a goal: to maintain the safety of the professional relationship, not to trigger my clients’ care-giving response. To meet that goal, I chose seven guiding principles for client conversations.
- Honor the fact that we are two humans in close contact, holding a deep and meaningful discussion.
- Be centered, clear, and calm before opening up the conversation.
- Share the facts and give realistic assurances for the near-future and long-term prognosis.
- Assure them that friends and family are supporting me on a personal and practical level.
- Put forward a plan for our continued work.
- Respond to offers of help with suggestions of how they can support me in sustaining my business.
- Recognize the emotional toll these conversations will take and only schedule one to two of these types of talks per week.
Those principles helped me be genuine. They also kept everything congruent, from my inner self to my words, tone of voice, and body language. They worked for my clients, too, helping them cope with my difficult news and have confidence that our work would progress. I was able to continue my consulting and coaching engagements with them. All in all, our relationships have only been strengthened by my choice to share such deeply personal news with them.
1Feltman, C. (2009). The thin book of trust. An essential primer for building trust at work. Bend, OR: Thin Book Publishing Company.