How Do You Handle Bad News? by Mike Griffith

Professor Mike GriffithRecently I have been blessed with very good news.  Good news is both easy to take and gratifying to receive.  As I reflect on this good news, I am reminded that not so long ago I received some bad, life-changing news.

How I handled the bad news is a lesson in what NOT to do.  

I was dumbfounded upon receiving this bad news, paralyzed by a numbing fear that kept me from having any worthwhile rational thought.  I sought out advice from those close to me, as well as professionals, but in my mentally-numbed and emotionally-charged state, the advice and information that I received as largely wasted.  The image of a drowning man who can’t swim flailing about for a life preserver comes to mind.  A sea of worry, details, possible eventualities, doubt, and confusion was engulfing me and I was churning it up as I tried to come to terms with some possible future that may or may not come to pass.

It took, what I feel was a long time, for me to get back to right thinking, forward movement, and emotional stability.  There was no one thing, no one thought, no one answer or epiphany that stabilized me.  The life preserver was not thrown to me by any single person.  I was kept afloat, not by any one thrust of action on my part; but my stability came from many sources including those I initially sought advice from, as well as new people I met who gave me new tools to handle the bad news and disappointments I faced during this trying time.

I have come through a very daunting and challenging time.  I know I will go through more in the months and years to come.  Just as you will, I will receive disappointing news, sad news, news that changes life forever, maybe not for the better.

What is the best way to handle bad news?

As I said above, I feel my case is the opposite of how to successfully handle bad news.  In the future, here is the formula I plan to follow to help me deal with bad news:

1.) Focus to Relax

Feel the emotion you are supposed to feel, but don’t let it overtake you.  Breathe.  Concentrate on you, just you as you are at THAT moment.  Stay in that moment, that now.  Focus on what you are feeling, be it anger, sorrow, numbness, or confusion.  Let the emotion live; don’t suppress it.  Once it abates a bit, breathe deeply, slowly, and try to relax.  I let my own fear of some potential future which ended up never coming to pass overtake me several times, harming my ability to rationally deal with my situation.

2.) Plot Outcomes

My seeking advice and information was an attempt on my part to help predict a positive outcome to my situation.  That’s not harmful in and of itself, but since I was not relaxed, I could not process the information and advice I got.  It all became so much clutter in my already messy mind.

Eventually I was able to  list the worst-case scenario, best-case scenario, and several middle-ground possibilities that would be outcomes of my situation.  By examining these outcomes, then going further and planning on realistic “if/then” scenarios concerning them, I could come to a state of acceptance with each of them, including the life-altering worst-case scenario.

Some people, myself included, find that writing ideas out on paper make them more real, easier to conceptualize.  If you find ideas and fears swirling about your mind, try writing them down  and form them into realistic “if this happens, then I will do this” outcomes.  List them then in best to worst case scenarios.  Read over the list to see if these are accurate, likely outcomes based on the information you have.  This should help you come to accept these possible outcomes and help you face challenges associated with them.

3.)  See Silver Linings

Or, to use similar cliché, “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade”.

This step occurs at some time after both the relaxing/focusing and plotting possible outcomes steps and it occurred on its own for me.  I did nothing active to bring it about other than to change my perception of things.

As time passed and I lived through challenges in the face of the bad news I’d received, I came to realize that while my life will never be the same as it was before, there were some benefits I was receiving from the challenges I overcame, too.  Nothing  I was going through was insurmountable or had irreparably negative outcomes.  I was facing and overcoming challenges, and that’s what we do in life, school, and business every week.  By overcoming my challenges – some of which I put in front of myself with my own fears, doubts, and sour moods – I was growing stronger and more successful, and very possibly contributing to the factors which led to me getting the good news I recently received.

So by doing what I learned to do through a great deal of panic, emotional turmoil, and wasted energy:

to focus by relaxing,

by creating a list of all possible outcomes and accepting each of them,

and by seeing silver linings in the challenges you’ll face,

you will handle bad news in a more positive, healthy way.

I wish you nothing but blessing in your life, but realistically, you’ll get bad news from time-to-time.  At the  very least I hope my tips will be of help to you.