What to Tell People about your Illness – or Not

In last week’s post, Making Promises You May Not Be Able to Keep, I presented questions to help you think about who, in your business and personal life, needs to know and/or can help you when illness  – or some other circumstance –  threatens reliable performance and you’re not at your best. Even when you gain clarity about these questions, you still have to decide what you will divulge to whom, and what you’ll actually say.

It is hard to talk about something that you’d really rather not, especially if you’re feeling uncomfortable about how people will react or what they’ll think. The easiest way to take the emotion out of an emotional situation is to ask “logical” questions. The following questions, adapted from Business from Bed, will help you decide what to say, and to whom. I answered the first question as I would have when flare-ups from Crohn’s were a regular part of my life so you can see how this works.

How would you describe what you’re dealing with in the simplest terms possible?

I have Crohn’s Disease. When it flares up, I have to keep close to a bathroom. I’m often in a lot of pain and it’s like the very worst case of diarrhea you’ve ever experienced.

Simple and straight-forward responses are best. You can use the following questions to craft your brief summary, and flesh out what else you might need to share with managers and/or social acquaintances.

  • How does your illness or injury impact you at this moment in time?
  • Does it limit your time available to work? If so, how?
  • Does it – or do the medical procedures and medications – impair your mental functioning?
  • Can you predict your energy and mood swings or do they vary from day-to-day?
  • Are you limited socially? If so, how?
  • Is this a finite situation, or is the timeline for recovery open-ended?

Now, go back to your list of “people who may need to know:” family and close friends, your business team, clients or customers, employer, business colleagues, social media friends and acquaintances, etc. Think, once again, about how your fluctuations in energy and productivity do or don’t have a direct impact on them.

  • What can you tell them that give them useful information without overwhelming you or them?
  • What are the potential risks of revealing the facts?
  • What is the potential upside benefit of revealing the facts?
  • Do you want them to offer to help, or wait until you ask for it?
  • If you want them to treat you as they always have, how can you assure them that this is best and is really okay?

Prioritize Your Disclosure List

After answering the questions above, organize the people you identified in your brainstorming list under “Who Needs to Know?” (see last week’s post) into the following groups:

  • Must know
  • Would like to know (or you would like them to know)
  • Only if they ask
  • Never needs to know

Take your time. If you realize that there are people who need more information about your current circumstances, there’s no need to rush out and tell everyone. Start with your “must know” list. If you notice a rise in fear or resistance pay attention. It might not be the right time, or you might want to ask someone to help you share this information.

What has worked for you? Have you successfully negotiated agreements when illness or injury – or other life limitation – has reduced your productive capacity? Have you divulged the specifics or kept the details to yourself? Has it depended on who you were talking to? What was the outcome?

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.