Three Steps to Handling Hard or Unexpected News - jennwhitmer.com

Jul 1, 2022

Three Steps to Handling Hard or Unexpected News

It’s been a week, friends. It’s been a week. Congressional hearing bombshells, Supreme Court rulings, and a host of other issues have nearly everyone I’ve talked to off-kilter (at best).

Photo by Etty Fidele on Unsplash


Today I was having lunch with a new friend at a delicious Mexican place with straws too big for the glasses. I, of course, got over-excited with my hand gestures and knocked the cup of ice and water over. Immediately, the water slid into every crook and crevice on the table. I sopped most of the water with my napkin and easily picked up the ice cubes. But throughout our conversation, I kept finding little damp spots in crooks and crevices of the table.

When heavy news comes — personally, professionally, or culturally — shoving our reactions into a bedazzled box doesn’t work well. Because like my water at lunch, our reactions lurk in unexpected places where they are much harder to deal with.

The raw, hidden, or just misplaced reactions aren’t as easy to identify like the ice cubes on the table. They’re hidden in the crevices and show up looking like lack of focus, short tempers, procrastination, withdrawal, grabs for control, or even hyperfocus.

It can be easy to shame yourself and others. “UGH, why can’t I (or they) just get over this?” Usually, the answer to that question is, “You can’t. But you can move through it.”


Here are three steps to begin to handle hard news.

1. Regulate your emotions.
That means closing the stress cycle. Breathing, quick intense physical activity, a big ugly cry, or even a talking it out with a friend. The most successful method I’ve found in the intense initial moments is Name, Rate, Find.
Name your emotion.
Rate the intensity.
Find the feeling in your body.
Regulating your emotions is most definitely not stuffing them down or ignoring them. Regulating them is allowing yourself to experience them and then release.

2. Examine your thoughts.
Once your emotions are less intense, move to your thoughts. I often use with clients (and myself!) questions like
Where did I get this information? Is it credible?
What are the reasons I think this is true?
What is the meaning I’m creating from this information?
When you examine your thoughts, you discover what your reasons are for your reaction. You can deal with the facts and also the story you’re creating.


3. Choose your response.
Now you can choose a responsive positive action, not a knee-jerk reaction. Your response can be to focus on work, call a friend, journal, meditate, pray, walk away from the Twitter feed, make a donation, lament, find more information…any number of positive responses are available when you act with intention.
You cannot lead your people well if you don’t lead yourself first. Once you’ve done this, you can create space for your people to walk through this as well. Ignoring the situation and expecting business as usual is destructive to you and your team.

Photo by Max Ilienerwise on Unsplash


When hard news comes, give yourself some space to move through it all.

(And if you just want someone to talk to, you can always send me an email. I’m here to help.)

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