The Art of Delivering Bad News Sooner (Rather Than Later)

I had some water issues last week  – burst pipes within my building had meant there were issues with my water and for 2 days, water in our building did not work properly. I phoned to the property management company the day after the issue first start and was told that the situation was being worked on. In two days, the whole thing was resolved, and clear, clean water once again flowed normally through my faucets. 

I’m grateful for the return to normalcy, as it is difficult to live without water. 

This experience, though, is a good reminder in how important proactive communication is. In maintaining relationship within the world of business as well as at work, with friends or family, proactively bringing up issues before they become problems is vital to keeping trust and patience. Without this type of communication, feelings of frustration, anger, confusion arise from a place of fear and unknown – as what I had experienced in having no idea what was happening with my apartment’s water supply or how long the situation would last.

By contrast, a past experience that I had with American Express, reminded me the benefit of proactive communication – even in the face of bad news.

My credit card had been compromised – someone had stolen my credit card information and decided to go on a spending spree at a distant Home Depot, a destination that I don’t often frequent. Within 15 minutes of the purchase, I had received a phone call from a representative asking if the purchase was mine. When I confirmed that it wasn’t, the representative let me know my card had been compromised and I would receive a new one soon. 

How did this situation differ from my experience with the burst pipes at my apartment?:

  • I knew the bad news quickly
  • I knew that someone was working on a solution
  • I knew what that solution was and approximately when the issue would be resolved (i.e. I was told when I would receive my new credit card)

Proactive communication – even when delivering bad news – is so much more easily accepted than late communication. As a marketing and communications professional, this is an important professional and personal lesson to reinforce.


Jen Burstedt

Burst Pipes & Life Without Water

As a city-dweller, or even in my former life as a suburbanite, I didn’t think too much about drought. In my memory, the worst thing that drought ever mean was taking shorter showers and having my parents water the front lawn less. I had never experienced a faucet that wouldn’t return clean, potable water. (I realize in writing this that I’m part of a lucky minority of this world that can say these things.)


Clean, cool water from Lake Tahoe – taken summer 2013.

Until moving to my apartment in the Tenderloin.

Wednesday morning: the first time that I ever turned water out of a kitchen sink, made and drank a cup of coffee… and then looked at my glass kettle sitting on the stove and realized that the water was an sickly, unnatural shade of yellow.

I felt queasy – more from the anticipation of some kind of poisoning due to contaminated water more than anything. I then proceeded to rush off to work and forgot about the whole incident until about 8 hours later, when I was reminded of the situation.

“What if I drank contaminated water?” The thought flashed through my mind, but it was already 8 hours later; most reactions to drinking contaminated water would happen more quickly than that, seems to be the common consensus.

Nothing happened, so I guess the water was okay.

I texted one of my neighbors, who lives on the same floor as I do, to see what her situation was. She reported that black water had come out of her faucets.

I called in the day after to the property management company to see what was going on. Apparently, some emergency where a pipe had burst happened.

Were residents informed? No.

In the age of email, text and other types of communication, at what point does a company have an obligation to communicate to its tenants (consumers) the potentially danger problems it is having?

Luckily, I have a network of family and friends in the area, so if I have to avoid sleeping at my apartment in order to be able to access water, I can easily do so. But, not everyone has this ability, and at this point, I don’t even know how long it will be until everything is back to normal.

As a new resident to the Tenderloin – the party of the city that I once shied away from and thought that I would never live in, I’m starting to see a different side of life.



Jen Burstedt

Let’s Talk About Death

Or, more precisely, let’s talk about life before we encounter death.

I work in healthcare and recently attended the Coalition for Compassionate Care of California‘s annual conference on the topic of hospice and palliative care in Newport Beach. The conference brought together clinical types (physicians, nurses and other patient facing staff) and non-clinical types (hospital administrators, marketing and communications individuals like myself, volunteers and members of the public), bringing together a community of experts to learn and discuss advancements and changes in the fields of palliative and hospice care.

CCCC logo

Coalition for Compassionate Care of California, the organization which hosts an annual conference on palliative and hospice care.

While the conversations we had revolved around palliative care – an area of healthcare focused on relieving patients’ pain – and hospice care – a slightly different part of healthcare revolving around relieving pain during the end-of-life or during a terminal illness, some of the topics and speakers drew our attention towards questions such as:

  • How often do we talk about death as a society, from a casual-dinner-conversation type of conversation?
  • How is it detrimental to our society to be so afraid to speak about death?

Many of us can get incredibly involved in financial planning for our future – from the time we obsess over our 401(k)s and retirement plans, to ensuring that we have the proper insurance – but thinking or planning about our death is often seen as too morbid or uncomfortable.

  • How can you make your final wishes known if you haven’t faced that fact that you might one day pass?
  • If we do so much around planning for birth, why do we not talk and plan as much around death?

Is death something that you feel comfortable talking about? Do you wish you could feel more comfortable in talking about it?


Jen Burstedt

A Blind Experience: The Blind Cafe in San Francisco

What would you do if you were to go blind today? If you lost all sense of sight and were pitched into darkness?

Saturday night, I experienced a tiny sliver of the experience that blind people have each day at the Blind Cafe in San Francisco. Previously mentioned in this blog post, the Blind Cafe is also called a pop-up restaurant. It’s a 3 day event: 3 night of dinners with a concert included.

The Blind Cafe - a community event.

The Blind Cafe, a community event where people connect, learn and grow in the dark.

The venue was the Potrero Hill Neighborhood House, a local community center. The main multipurpose room was transformed into the dark room, and this is where the blind experience began.

Pulling back the curtain, a guide escorted me through the maze created to maintain the total darkness within the large room which served as the dining hall and concert venue. I hadn’t thought that the cup of red wine I was holding could easily be a hazard in a room of “temporarily blind” individuals.

As my guide pulled me through the room, he whispered to me, “stand here.” I clung to his arm as I tried to get my bearings in the completely dark room.

Without my eyes, I wish I could have walked around the room, touching everything, running my hands along to feel the rough, splintery wood walls, or the protruding upraised stage, and feel the placement of the plastic tables and folding chairs around the room. I couldn’t, though, as Rosh, the performer, sang on stage. It likely would have meant a collision with another individual would have spilled red wine on my white button-up shirt…

Conversation and laughter bubbled up from around me, sporadically, but I couldn’t tell from where. After while of struggling, trying to pinpoint and analyze the layout of the room, and the people, and the decor, I let it go. For a night, I could give up my reliance on my sight and experience some of what a blind person might experience.

I remained where I was, relaxing as the concert went on, hearing more clearly than before as Rosh sang along with his acoustic guitar on stage. I saw this as a chance to listen a little closerwithout the distraction of my eyes and sight – to take comfort in the cloak of darkness and relishing the fact that I could focus on one less sense, at least for a night.

One Eye Glass Broken website.

One Eye Glass Broken performed at the San Francisco Blind Cafe.

Events by Collette organized the event, Rosh & One Eye Glass Broken came to play, blind guests of honor represented and spoke, blind waitstaff were involved, individuals such as Chef Kaz from Breakthrough Sushi donated their services to the delicious vegan menu and many other volunteers staffed the event. An incredible effort of many – awesome job to everyone who was involved, attended and supported the event!


Jen Burstedt

Stirring Empathy in Others: A Video

Empathy: how do you teach someone to look outside themselves?

I thought this short video did an amazing job of showing a glimpse inside people’s heads to teach (at least, in the short term) what is means to be empathetic.

Kudos to the marketing and communications team at Cleveland Clinic who produced this! Also, thank you to Connie Davis, Dr. Damara Gutnick and Kriss Haren for introducing it to me through their motivational interviewing workshop in Burbank.

empathy video by the Cleveland Clinic

A video made by the Cleveland Clinic on “Empathy: The Human Connection to Patient Care.”

Smartphone Overload & Engagement

Walking around the streets of my city, it’s almost a disease – the sickness of people being smartphone addicted.

Ghirardelli Square view in San Francisco.

The view on my walk by the bay in San Francisco.

I observe people everywhere, glued to their iPhones, whether walking down the street, sitting at a cafe, riding the bus, having drinks with friends, driving…

Leaving work from my office building in downtown San Francisco, I can look straight on the street and multiple times, it’s the same scene with different characters. I’ll look inside the car – in this instance, it’s a new silver Honda Civic with a thirty-something year old guy wearing a dark blueberry long sleeved button-up shirt, his face lit by the small screen. He smiles as he scrolls down his Facebook feed, pausing at a Buzzfeed article, then swiping upward to view the picture of a friend on a beach in Thailand, “liking” the status update of another friend who is happy that tomorrow is Friday.

The light turns green, they continue to stare at the tiny device until an annoyed driver behind them honks, prompting them to come back to reality.

We, as a nation, are progressively getting more addicted to our smartphones, feeling a rush when we pop in our inbox and find a new piece of email in it. We thrive on texts, vibrations and tweets. Besides the pleasure and validation we get when we receive message and mail (“yes, you are liked – someone retweeted the article you tweeted this morning!”), are we so afraid that we’ll miss out or become unproductive or fall behind?

Have we forgotten how to be still? Do we get bored too easily?

I had no choice but to put down my iPhone and engage with the world today when I decided to go grocery shopping in between work and going to the beginners’ improv class that I’m taking in a far corner of the city.

I had my hands full, struggling with two loaded bags in my arms plus a backpack on my shoulders, as I made my way to the class on foot. The walk was through North Beach, and night was falling. I made my way slowly through the 10 or so blocks that I needed to cover to arrive at my class, taking a stroll along the tourist attractions – the end of the line for the cable car, Ghirardelli Square, bikes to rent, inviting cafes and chain restaurants.

Nearing the end of my walk, the streets turned to a walk along the marina, giving me a generous view of the bay and Alcatraz.

The air was still, with the only noise an occasional fog horn and the panting of a handful of joggers making their ways down the street,  dressed in bright neon gear, looking professional and fit. The moderate, temperate winter of San Francisco meant that the evening was cool, around 60, with a fine layer of fog which still allowed for a view of the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance. Though near the water, San Francisco doesn’t have a strong salty smell, as we’re protected by the bay, but there the slight perfume of herb or plant, of which I couldn’t even tell you – hung in the air. It was an evening I can only describe as fresh, and I just felt… content to be experiencing the evening so vividly.

The whirling, rambunctious, tumbling thoughts in my mind slowed down as I took a moment to breathe the air, scan the distance and enjoy the journey I was taking.

Is this what we miss out on when we’re constantly occupied by our devices? Do we miss the subtleties of the world around us? How do you appreciate nature, or surroundings around you that you’re too distracted to notice?

Take a moment to reflect on your day, the interactions you’ve had. What would be different when you turn off your phone for a day? Harder said than done, but try it. Let me know what happens when you do.

I’m Not Busy

Tyler Ward, a blogger and web consultant, argues that being busy isn’t respectable anymore – and I agree.

Do you reply to friends’ questions, “how is life going?” with a “I’m so busy!” “Crazy-busy!” “Just keepin’ busy…”

Peaceful Lake Tahoe.

Lake Tahoe — it’s important to take time away from busyness and go on vacation!


But, outside of major commitments such as medical school, caregiving or required time at work, does filling up our time and having accomplished X number of items any given day from our to-do list actually mean we’ve adding value to our lives and the things in it that are most important to us?

A recent move and a breakup, in addition to my own efforts to create more open space on my calendar has left me with less busyness in my life.

Less activities during my week has been a funny change; I’m used to setting up coffee dates, going to happy hours and attending lectures or classes nearly ever night of the week. For the first time in the 5 years I’ve moved to the city of San Francisco, I haven’t had too much going on for the past two weeks – and it feels nice.

What other strategies am I using to decrease the amount of busyness in my life? I’ve used a few techniques to add more flexibility and time to my day: less TV and no going out to dinners during the week, commuting to work by walking or running instead of additional gym time (with my new apartment, I’m now only 2 1/2 miles from work so this is feasible) and more strategic dinner preparations (many leftovers, easy-to-assemble meals, plus one of the best kitchen inventions ever: the slow cooker).

Doing less & being more strategic with my time has allowed me more peacefulness in my life. I’m actually getting a decent amount of sleep, feeling more alert and less stressed and more centered in devoting energy in only the activities that feel most valuable to me. It’s been pretty awesome.

Tyler challenges, in his blog post, for readers to refrain from using the word “busy” to answer the question, “how are you?” His point is also that we should reflect on what we are doing and make ourselves less busy by being more selective, for the benefit of ourselves and the things that matter in our lives.

I’m going to take the challenge: for the entire month of February, when someone asks me how I am, I won’t use the term “busy”.


Want to join me and Tyler?

Follow Tyler on Twitter at @tylerwardis


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