Reflection Friday: Managing Bad News

August 25, 2023   |   Lesli Mones

Picture this: You’re going about your morning, checking things off your to-do list, in and out of meetings, and moving through your day with relative ease. Then, something happens that knocks you off your center—perhaps an email complaint, bad news about the business, a family crisis, health issue, conflict with a colleague. 

It often doesn’t matter what it is, nor how big or small; what matters is that it alters the course of your day (or week or month) in a negative way.

The news or event is bad enough on its own, but you just can’t get over it. Now you’re stuck ruminating, worrying, and spiraling for the rest of the day. 

Your external reaction to the situation aside—that’s a post for another day—your internal bad mood about the situation takes over your mind, your emotions, and your time, and now you have two problems instead of one: the original problem, plus the lack of mental and emotional space to take care of it. It’s a vicious cycle. 

But there is hope! While it’s difficult and unpleasant to receive bad news, there are ways to get your focus back on track when this happens so you don’t add fuel to the fire.


Reflection Questions

If you want to make the best of a bad situation, here’s a handy checklist to reflect on that might help. Ask yourself:

  • Is there something I can do right away to attend to the situation, improve it, or sort it out?
    • We don’t mean a reactive response like firing off a heated email, but rather something practical and reasonable that moves you toward resolution. For instance, sending an email to someone who can help you with the problem, making an appointment to talk with someone, or writing down a tangible list of possible solutions.
  • Is this a temporary, annoying issue that will soon pass on its own, or is this a really upsetting and difficult problem that requires more attention?
    • If the former, remind yourself that your worrying is just making you more miserable. Things come and go, and it will likely resolve itself in time. Soon, you’ll be on the other side, so it might be time to just drop it. 
    • If it’s a bigger issue, remember that every challenge you face “has your name on it.” It holds within it the possibility of transformation, and time will not only lessen the pain but also give you more perspective. Ask yourself what the situation is asking of you, how it can help you develop, and what potential growth there might be in this moment.
  • What is going well in my life? What am I grateful for? 
    • It might sound cliché, but take a moment to be grateful and to count your blessings. Think of all the amazing, wonderful dimensions of your life: people, family, means, work, intelligence, health—whatever you have that bestows gifts; facing bad news is a great time to draw on those for comfort and perspective. 

While it’s often easier to simply stay upset after an upsetting situation, with a little effort, you can pull yourself back to a place of peace and productivity. You’ll not only feel better personally, but your team and those around you will reap the benefits of your emotional regulation, too; a win-win for everyone!