How To Handle Bad News At Work Like A Pro

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There are some meetings every career girl hates. The ones that are planned and the ones that seem to come from nowhere. Whether it’s a bad employee review, a role change that’s sprung on you, or getting downsized, there are good and bad ways to handle the conversations about bad news in the workplace.

Remember: We have ALL been there 

Getting fired? Check. Getting a promotion without a raise? Check. Getting told someone else was chosen over you? Check. We at Career Girl Daily have all had our ups and downs and we’re here to tell you that no matter the stumbling block, you are not alone. How you handle bad news says a lot about your character, and no one has a good career without adversity somewhere down the line. Just know: You are going to make it through this!

Try to see it as a learning opportunity

Nothing happens without a reason, and sometimes the shock of bad news can make us forget that. But feedback is valuable, no matter what it is. If your boss would really like to keep you as an employee but simply can’t, try to see it for what it is: you’re a good employee in a downsizing company.

If you’re told that you’re lacking as an employee, this is an opportunity to improve your skill set so that that’s not the case anymore. Even unfair news can wake you up: if you’re getting a promotion (with longer hours and more responsibility), but there’s no raise involved, is the company that you’re working for a fair one? Is it somewhere you want to be? These things sometimes show up in our lives to make us question where we are and how we’re doing, even if hearing the news is difficult.

If you have to excuse yourself, do it

Some bad news, like being fired, is bound to elicit an emotional reaction. Not taking this news personally is a good first step, but if you feel yourself getting overwhelmed during the conversation, have some breathing exercises on hand (my favorite: count to twenty in your head while inhaling and exhaling slowly).

Wait until the meeting concludes to go to the bathroom or outside, and have your reaction away from your supervisor’s eyes. Although it might be difficult, don’t feign an illness or leave work early; continue the day as though nothing is wrong. You’ll be able to have a proper reaction once the workday is over, and bosses think better of employees that can take bad news in stride.

If an answer is required, remember that you don’t have to make any decisions immediately.

Hopefully, you’ve been made aware of the meeting’s topic and thought of a worst-case scenario. But if you’ve been completely blindsided by bad news, you might not be sure how to react. And that’s OK! Your boss might be looking for a decision on the spot (whether you’ll stay with a company, or take an alternate position), but there are ways around this.

Say something like, “This is surprising news; I’ll need to take some time to consider my options” or “I’m sure you’ve taken a good deal of time thinking about this; I think I need to do the same. Why don’t I come back to you by the end of the week?” These answers show that you’re taking the news seriously, and taking some time to reflect and make the best decision for you.

After the conversation, make a plan

Take some time to have your reaction, and then go home, grab a pen and paper, and figure out what your problem is and how you’re going to fix it, in a step-by-step format. So you’ve been fired—are your CV and LinkedIn up-to-date? Have you sent emails to former bosses and mentors for leads on jobs? Have you read our tips for job searching? If you’ve been passed over for a promotion, are you going to seek a new job, or talk to your current boss about where you’re lacking and how you can improve?

If you’ve been told that you’re not fitting in at the workplace, are you going to get a new attitude or a new job? Identify your problem, come up with possible solutions, and then outline the steps on how to get there. Pump some music, pull out your version of Lean In, and get ready to work!

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  • Amanda @ Blissful Gal

    Ugh such great tips. It is so easy to take everything personally, but I have learned to roll with the punches and move on from bad news. Everything is always a learning experience!

    • Celina

      Exactly Amanda!

  • Camille Beygui

    Great post


  • Rikke Engsig Nielsen

    Good post! It can be hard to move on from the bad news at work, and these tips can definetly be very helpful. Thank you so much!

    • Beth

      You’re welcome!! I agree, but bad news isn’t the end of the world. x

  • Leanne

    brilliant tips, i definitely need to start seeing unforeseen circumstances as a learning curve as it’s usually not as bad as it first seems! x

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