0 How to Respond to Bad News

In his previous article, Frank Newberry looked at how to give bad news to people in the workplace. In this article, Frank offers some tips on how we might respond better - when we are on the receiving end of bad news.

In this article, I will look at: 1) Being prepared - the need to be alert to the signs that bad news may be on the way, 2) Being aware - of why bad news hurts some people more than it hurts others, and 3) Being ready - to adjust our reactions to the pain that can come with bad news.If we take redundancy (in the Covid-19 era) as our 'bad news' example - we can explore what may be a hot topic for some of us.

Rule 1: Be Prepared for the Signs

I have been made redundant a few times in my career and, looking back, I have to say that being alert and prepared was key to my enduring the bad news experience. Now, we may not be able to predict exactly when we will get bad news, but there could be signs all around for us to see. Signs in the national news, the local news, the gossip at work about what is happening elsewhere, and the strategies and tactics government agencies are encouraging employers to adopt at present.

We will also have our own individual suspicions. Nagging away in the back of our minds, our suspicions may be causing us to have questions like: 'Will I be the first/next to go?', 'How will I manage?', 'How will my family be affected?'.

So, rule one is to 'Be Alert to the Facts'. Check them out, ask questions - we all have the right to know about changes that could affect our working arrangements and our livelihood.

Of course, shocks and surprises will always occur but this, although distressing and disturbing, might be easier for our emotions to bear than the slow and painful build-up of suspicion and doubt. Suspicions that could ultimately leave us blaming ourselves for not seeing the signs before the bad news was upon us.

A good employer will tell us early on, and keep us updated, on any changes that are likely to happen. A good employer will answer all our questions and concerns. Being alert could mean we have to ask for a meeting at work to get the clarity we need. We may even need to prepare ourselves to help less-good employers to 'get it right'.

Our willingness to check things out may be directly related to how much we value our job. Do we care about doing good work? Are we really bothered? Does our employer know that we care about doing a good job?

Rule 2: Be Aware of Feelings

Let us work with the answers to the preceding questions and explore the extent to which we 'give a damn'. If we do care - the level of emotional pain we might suffer if we lose our job is going to be greater than if we do not care. Rule two then is to 'Be Alert to the Feelings'. You are more likely to feel pain if the following facts and feelings apply. If you are:


1. Personally invested, i.e. you give a lot of time and effort to the work and care about it very much

2. Burdened with considerable financial commitments and family responsibilities at the moment

3. Competent at doing the job and you get good results for the employer

4. Currently enjoying a good working relationship with colleagues and managers

5. Convinced that your department needs people like you, especially at the moment

6. Persuaded that the organisation as a whole will suffer if you are made redundant

By the same token then, the pain of a redundancy would be less for you if the facts and your feelings suggest you:


1. Don't care about your job

2. Have few financial or family commitments at the moment

3. Are not very good at the job and your results are not too special

4. Do not have strong working relations with colleagues and managers

5. Are reluctant to believe that your presence is essential to the department's success

6. Do not think that the organisation as a whole will suffer if you leave

I have to report that, in my personal experience, most people I meet in the turfcare sector fall into category A above. Attending training seminars is just one of the signs that they care about the job. I also have to acknowledge that many more people do not attend training seminars! They are quite happy to just turn up and do the work to the same old standard and, of course, their employers are well aware of this attitude.

Now, if there is talk of redundancies and you do care about the work, then you will need to 'hope for the best', but 'prepare for the worst'. This brings us neatly to something called the Kübler Ross Grief Cycle - a well-known model that puts helpful labels on the phases many of us go through when we have to deal with bad news.

A working knowledge of the Grief Cycle is something we can use to prepare and respond to our negative reactions. Initially, the bad news may well have shaken us up, and we could be very confused about what to do next. If we can understand our reactions to the bad news - we can control our reactions better. Maybe not all of them, but at least some of them.

Rule 3: The Grief Cycle - being ready

Let us go through the five phases of the Grief Cycle:

1. Shock/Denial: After the shock of the bad news - the first reaction is often one of 'denial'. For example, we might find ourselves saying 'this can't be right', or 'there must be some mistake'; denial may go on long after the bad news has been confirmed. Some people even go into denial for long periods. I know of one individual who kept checking back with the employer for months, asking if he had 'changed his mind about the need for redundancies yet'

2. Anger: Once the news has sunk in it is quite normal to go into 'victim mode' and have feelings of 'anger'. We might ask ourselves: 'why me?', 'this is so unfair' etc. Another reaction at this point would be to find someone to blame for the bad news, e.g. incompetent people at work, uncaring bosses, stupid people who have let us all down. I know of one individual who lost his job but carried on turning up for work for months afterwards, playing 'the victim' - chatting to old colleagues, complaining about his situation but not taking any action to move on

3. Bargaining: After 'anger' we can move into the 'bargaining' or 'negotiating' part of the cycle. We might think that 'maybe we can persuade the employer to retain us if we volunteer for extra work for the same pay?' 'Perhaps we can gang up on the employer and all threaten to strike if we cannot keep our jobs the way they are?' Less dramatically, we might ask 'what is needed to keep the job at this point?'

4. Depression: The 'bargaining' phase can give us a little hope and as such may postpone the inevitable feelings of disappointment and despair that redundancy will bring. Lethargy and self-pity may set in during the 'depression' phase and we may not feel like doing anything for a while. Our self-confidence and emotional resilience could be affected, and, again, this would be normal in the circumstances. We need to notice it, acknowledge it and eventually be ready to practice what author Paul McGee calls SUMO, i.e. 'Shut Up and Move On' - we move into the 'acceptance' phase with no more wallowing in self-pity

5. Acceptance: We can hold out for as long as we can, wishing and hoping, but eventually 'acceptance' will have to happen. It will mean adjustment and challenge. It will mean facing the world as it really is and not what we want it to be. It is never easy to give up a job we love. I have had to do it a couple of times but, as time went by, I got equally rewarding work and was even able to do the work I love on a voluntary basis

So, good luck with responding to bad news. May you be able to do it in a more positive and resourceful way when it happens next time.

If you have concerns and questions about this topic, please feel free to contact me via my website www.franknewberry.com. Just click on the Contact tab.

© 2020 Frank Newberry


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