CIOs who have to deliver bad news to the boss might want to adopt communication techniques used by hospice care providers.

Robert Plant learned much about delivering bad news from doctors and nurses who worked at a hospice where his father was a patient.

"There's a lot of bad news in a hospice setting, and it's delivered in a straightforward yet thoughtful manner that defuses the anxiety and even eases some of the pain," he wrote in a recent blog post.

An associate professor of computer information systems at the University of Miami School of Business Administration, Plant wrote that some of the techniques could be used by a CIO who, for example, has to tell the CEO that a legacy system is on the verge of failing.

Plant offered these suggestions:

  • Hold the calls. Although doctors sometimes have to interrupt sensitive meetings to respond to emergencies, it's preferable for bad news to be delivered in one uninterrupted session. Make sure there's sufficient time for the meeting and only one item on the agenda.
  • Enlist a business ally, the one most threatened by the problem, and talk about the issue as a business problem, not a technical one.
  • Provide the CEO with a clear next step and urge immediate action. The goal is to put it on the CEO's must do list.