What to Do When You Get Unexpected Bad News
“The bad news is nothing lasts forever. The good news is nothing lasts forever.” – J. Cole
No one can predict when they’ll receive bad news. It could be they get a phone call or text that a project failed, or an urgent voice mail to call immediately. Sometimes the message is delivered in person, sometimes via impersonal email. Even rarer is the negative news sent via postal mail. No matter how you receive it, bad news is never welcomed. It can, in fact, throw you into an emotional tailspin, stall any motivation or forward momentum, even propel you into making irrational and reactionary decisions. Is there a better way to deal with unexpected bad news? Try these suggestions.
Take a deep breath. You need time to process.
Whether it’s the loss of a loved one or someone you know, learning you’ve just lost your job, suffered a demotion, found out your teenage son or daughter is using drugs, dropped out of school (or been expelled), you’re about to be sued or some other negative news, the first thing you must do is give yourself time to process the unexpected information. Take a few deep breaths and wipe everything from your mind as you calm yourself. This is vital to ensure you don’t make impulsive statements or do something drastic that can further worsen the situation.
Keep your wits about you. Avoid jumping to conclusions.
It’s natural to go to emotional extremes when you receive bad news. All sorts of dire possibilities assail you and you find yourself going to the absolute worst outcome in your mind. Avoid this at all costs, for it does you no good in coming up with an appropriate response and being able to clearly determine what you should do next.
Seek the facts.
While emotions run high and it’s tough to hang onto the facts, this is what you must do. Get the most accurate information possible on what just happened. Go straight to the source to eliminate bias or watered-down information that may be more opinion and hearsay than factual. To properly deal with unexpected negative news, you need to arm yourself with the facts.
Figure out your responsibilities and what you must do.
Take some time to assess what your responsibilities are with respect to the news you just received. Does this affect you directly, personally? Or is this more of a remote effect that doesn’t put you in immediate jeopardy? Once you know how you’re affected, you’ll be better able to determine a rational approach.
Enlist allies and support to help.
You may require allies and/or support to help you weather this unfortunate news. A prime example is hearing of the untimely death of a loved one. You’re an emotional wreck and not able to think clearly. Others may need to take over pressing responsibilities, such as caring for young children or projects underway at work. By enlisting the support of friends, relatives, co-workers and others, you’ll have less distraction as you tend to what matters most now.
Find healthy ways to vent your emotions.
Emotional stress is harmful physically and mentally. When you get bad news, it’s likely going to produce a sudden and very powerful emotional reaction. The more personally the news affects you, the more intense your emotions are likely to be. Ironically, one study found that autistic individuals are less surprised by the unexpected. Most of us, however, do tend to be affected when something unexpected happens, particularly when we’re the recipient of the news. While you’re processing the information, gathering facts, seeking support and allies, you also must tend to your own well-being. In this regard, it is helpful to find healthy ways to decrease some of the emotional stress you’re under, to vent your emotions in appropriate ways.
Forgive yourself and others.
You may feel a certain amount of guilt over your part in the bad news. If what happened is your fault or primarily your fault, it will be difficult to get past feeling responsible. Yet, the worst thing you can do is condemn yourself and wallow in guilt and shame. Others may be involved in the incident or situation that resulted in your getting the unfortunate news. Rather than heap blame on them and try to pass off your part in it, it is perhaps better to give them the benefit of the doubt. In other words, forgive yourself and others so you can make intelligent choices going forward.
Construct a plan.
Now that you’ve processed the bad news, searched out the facts, determined your responsibilities and what you must do, sought allies and help, it’s time to put together a plan. How you act and what you do will be important not only to you and your future but also others who depend upon you. Weigh and balance different approaches as you construct your plan. After you’ve done so, select the best option and get to work.
Help others affected.
Take some of the weight off your conscience and help ease the burden by offering to help others who may be affected by the negative news. This is especially appropriate if it was primarily your fault that this happened, yet it also makes sense when the bad news is a shared event. For example, if you’ve just been fired, your loved ones will be worried about how family life will continue, if you’ll lose your house or be evicted, if the kids will have to change schools and so on. Offer reassurance and maintain a sense of calm throughout any discussions. By helping others who may be upset, confused, angry or worried, you’ll also be helping calm yourself and reassert your sense of control over the situation.
Do your best and get on with life.
If you’ve given the situation adequate thought and prepared what you believe to be a workable plan of action, now the only sensible thing to do is to give it your best and get on with your life. People make mistakes. Bad things happen. There’s no way to predict success or failure. What you can do, however, is to strive to be thorough, diligent, honest, hardworking and reliable. Say what you mean and do what you say. Getting past or through this unfortunate time with a minimum of permanent emotional or other damage very much rests with you, the attitude you project and how firmly you believe you can accomplish what you set out to do.
Kane, S. (2018). What to Do When You Get Unexpected Bad News. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 5, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/lib/what-to-do-when-you-get-unexpected-bad-news/