Workplace Advice: How to Keep Your Composure While Receiving Bad News

While receiving the news that my job was eliminated, several emotions slapped hard against my chest. Shock. Rejection. Betrayal. Disappointment. Anger. Confusion. Fear.

One by one, they pounded at me … shaking my confidence … pestering my resolve … breaking my heart.

More than once during the 15- minute conversation — apparently it takes about five minutes to break the news of a layoff and about 10 minutes to review HR formalities — I fought off urges to behave unseemly.

I wanted to press my hands against my ears and chant “I can’t hear you.”

I wanted to spit out a few sarcastic observations like “Gee, I am so glad I stayed at the office until 9:30 the other night to honor a deadline.”

I wanted to cry. And I don’t mean spill down a few silent tears, I mean I wanted to unleash the ugly cry.

Am I ashamed that I entertained those feelings? Honestly … no. I’m not ashamed one bit. My world rocked from a major blow. Losing a job I was passionate about hurt. I also feel no shame because although those tumultuous feelings and impulses stirred wild inside me, I fought them and managed to make it through the ordeal with my composure in tact.

Here are the techniques I employed to help me keep my composure while receiving bad news.

  1. Death Grip/Tight Jaw – There is something about stiffening my jaw, gently biting the insides of my cheeks and clenching my fists that helps me maintain my resolve. It wards against numbness and allows me to grasp at least a semblance of control, which I find helpful when someone else is making a major life decision for me.
  2. Silent Prayer – Carrie Underwood’s “Jesus Take the Wheel” flooded my mind while I took in the bad news. Although I was listening to my boss, I was also fervently lifting up the silent prayer, “Dear Jesus … take the wheel of my heart. Help me get through this. Please give me your strength, because mine is not enough.”
  3. Remembering the Other People in the Room – A layoff is obviously tough for the person losing her job. It’s also not a cakewalk (at least it shouldn’t be) for the person(s) delivering the news. When I was able to take an honest look at the bearers of bad news and understand that they were hurting on some level as well, I was better able to keep calm and shower them with grace.
  4. Embracing Reality – Yielding to impulse would not have added anything positive to the situation. Nothing would have changed for the better, in fact things could have gotten worse. While amid the challenge, I kept reminding myself that self control would reap reward (positive references, no embarrassment, etc.)

Everyone handles bad news differently. Are there any techniques that help you stay calm when you feel like unraveling?

If you’d like to read deeper thoughts about this experience, I have a post at (in) Courage today that shares about being let go when you’re not ready to say goodbye.

7 thoughts on “Workplace Advice: How to Keep Your Composure While Receiving Bad News

  1. Thank you, Angela! Your techniques for keeping your composure while receiving bad news are wonderfully wise. #2 and #3 reminded me of two things that have helped me…First, I remember that Jesus is in the room…His name is Emmanuel–God with us…I ask myself the question…”What would a girl just like you do, in a situation just like that one you are in, if she was absolutely certain that God was with her?”…and then I silently pray…”Jesus, I cannot do this, but You can, won’t You give me Your smile?”…and He does 🙂

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  2. When this happened to me I felt the same feelings….when I was being “escorted” to my car (apparently that is how they handle all layoffs…even though I was not being fired) I felt like I was being treated like a criminal..but we got to my car and I looked at the HR woman and just thanked her for being kind to me….that I understood this had to be difficult for her too…she looked at me and breathed this huge sigh of relief. She said it was hard and that she was sorry and wished she didn’t have to deliver that news…..I felt good at least about how I handled myself…and used God’s example of grace with another person….hopefully that impacts her someday!

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    • Kristin — How awful to have to have been escorted out. I will say that my former employers did bestow extra mercies on me by delevering the news 6 weeks before it was a final deal. That did help and I was able to finish projects and say goodbye. What a neat opportunity you had though to share extra kindness with the HR representative. I too hope it will make a big impact on her and others. Blessings!

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  3. Love your writing, Angela. It’s no-nonsense. You’re practical, helpful, insightful, and, most of all: REAL. ‘Cause that’s what we all need more of: real women. Keep on tellin’ it like it is. It’s refreshing.

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  4. Love your writing, Angela. It’s no-nonsense. You’re practical, helpful, insightful and, most of all, REAL. ‘Cause that’s what we need more of: real women. Thanks for tellin’ it like it is! It’s refreshing.

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  5. Hi Angela,
    This post struck a chord with me, not as someone losing a job but very possibly my marriage. Rejection hurts so badly, and like you I’m just not ready to say goodbye. Thank you for so eloquently addressing the pain, and for the reminder that we never have to carry the hurt alone. (I sure could have used your tips during a few arguments where my tongue got the best of me!)

    P.S. — I live in your town. If you ever need a friend, I’m here! I’ll be praying for you and your family.

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