Go back

Publié le by NmNomador

Breaking Bad News to Homeowners While Pet Sitting

“There’s no good way to break bad news,” advised retired pediatric nurse and housesitter Peter McDermott. But sometimes housesitters need to convey bad news to the vacationing homeowners. A pet gets hurt, a home is burgled, an accident happens.
How can we break the news? We want to be diligent with our communication, but often we barely know our human hosts. Breaking bad news at the wrong time or in the wrong way might make things worse.

I like to learn ahead of time the homeowners’ wishes. During my Skype interview, I ask whether they want bad news while away, and if so, how it should be delivered.
Some homeowners have asked me not to convey any bad news that they can’t do anything about while they away. Others have asked to be notified immediately if anything happens to their pet or home. Still others have asked not to be notified of any problems during certain dates – while they are preparing for their wedding, for example.
I also ask how they would like to be communicated: text, What’s App voice mail, email, phone? In this day of easy miscommunication, the wrong method may seem cold.
Be sure the homeowners have completely filled out Nomador’s home-book or supplied all emergency contacts – including after-hours veterinarian contact information.

Hopefully, this preparation will act as a talisman against disaster! But if you do need to convey bad news, here’s what the experts advise:

1. Deal with your own emotions first.

Your panic will not help. If you don’t need to communicate with the homeowners immediately, do whatever you need to calm yourself down and release your sadness. Take a few deep breaths. Cry. Take a walk. Meditate. The goal is to make the conversation about the homeowners’ needs, not your own.

2. Be prepared to offer solutions.

Have the veterinarian’s phone number handy. Enlist the homeowner’s emergency contact. Know what help you are able to provide next. The ultimate goal of your communication is to get to “what’s next,” so you know how to proceed in a way that honors the homeowners’ wishes and their relationship with their pet.

3. Mentally prepare.

Mentally prepare what you will say or spend some time drafting the text or email before hitting “send.” But don’t delay too long. Most people respond to bad news by asking, “When did this happen?” or “How long have you known?”
If placing a phone call, you might want to practice out loud. Eliminate distractions such as the TV. Consider where the homeowners are, their time zone and what is happening on their trip. If possible, wait to call at a time when they will be awake and when the veterinarian is available. They will likely want to speak with their vet immediately.

4. Foreshadow the news.

Foreshadow the news and prepare the homeowner by saying or putting in the email subject line: “I have sad news about Buddy.” Or, “I need to speak with you about Fluffy, and I’m afraid it can’t wait.” Take a breath and allow that to sink in. The homeowner will guide you to what happens next by saying, “Oh dear, let me get my husband” or “What happened?” Listen carefully to their response so you know how quickly to proceed with your news. Don’t blurt it out and don’t hem and haw.
If you are sending an email, write short, declarative sentences that avoid a lot of prevaricating that the homeowner has to wade through. New research shows that most people prefer candor and directness when receiving bad news.

5. Tell the outcome first.

Tell the outcome first, speaking professionally and frankly, but compassionately, sticking to simple facts and avoiding euphemisms:  “Buddy was hit by a car. He’s alive, but the vet would like to talk with you.” “Fluffy was out in the back and we think she was attacked by a fox. The vet said there was nothing she could do.”

6. Allow the homeowners to process this news.

Take another deep breath and allow the homeowners to process this news, whether with silence or with tears. How you respond to the homeowners’ emotions is the most important part of breaking bad news.

7. Give the information in small chunks.

Give the information in small chunks to allow the homeowners to process the information. After they have taken in the essential message, they may want details, such as, “Where was Buddy hit? Were you with him?” Answer their questions honestly, calmly and as completely as possible. Allow them to express their emotions and avoid the urge to ramble in order to overcome your own discomfort.

8. Avoid minimizing the message.

Avoid minimizing the message with cheerful, positive language. Bad news is not more palatable because it’s sugar-coated.

9. Do not give false hope.

If you cannot answer their questions, admit that and suggest they speak with the vet.

10. Empathize.

“I know this is really upsetting news.  We’re upset, too. We’d really come to love Buddy.”

They might feel guilty for leaving an elderly or sick pet. Validate that they’ve been a good pet-parent.  “You gave Fluffy a really loving home. We can see that and feel that here.”

11. Offer a solution or next steps.

Action helps prevent people from going into shock and empowers their involvement. “Buddy is at the vet’s now and we’re prepared to be with him during surgery, if that’s what you elect to do. The vet needs you to call her as soon as possible. Here’s her mobile phone number. We called your friend Cathy, too, and she’s willing to be there during surgery, if you prefer.” “The vet can keep Fluffy’s body until you return home, if you’d like to bury him somewhere special. Would you like to speak with the vet yourself – or would you like us to handle those arrangements?”
If you offer specific support, be sure you follow through! Broken promises make bad news worse.

12. If emailing.

If emailing, put each of these steps in separate paragraphs and simple sentences, so the homeowner can absorb them.

13. Be patient.

If they get upset with you, be patient.  “I know this is tragic, and we’re really upset, too. We’re here to help you get through this.”

14. Resist the urge to look for comfort on social media.

While it may seem helpful to seek support in Facebook groups, it’s a violation of the homeowners’ privacy. But do seek support from your friends privately. Having a beloved pet experience an emergency or death on your watch is very stressful.

Author Bio

Kelly Hayes-Raitt

Kelly Hayes-Raitt has been housesitting full-time since 2009.  She shares her tips for landing great housesits in her new book How to Become a Housesitter:  Insider Tips from the HouseSit Diva, which has been featured in USA Today, CNBC.com and The Globe and Mail.  Available in soft cover or Kindle from Amazon or as an ebook from her web site HouseSitDiva.com.

comments powered by Disqus