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How to Handle Bad News Like a Champion

Tuesday, August 14, 2018
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No one likes to hear negative feedback about their performance, have a request denied, or hear that their team/department/company is not doing well this quarter. Beyond a few cliches and a nice pat on the back, few of us have had any training on how to handle bad news.

While I had some experience delivering bad news as a firefighter, handling bad news was another story. I remember when I had to deal with getting news of my third hip replacement in as many years (see How to Deliver Bad News With Empathy).

I could have cried (well, I did cry) and been very angry at the doctor, my friends, and myself. But after I got over my initial disappointment, I examined the situation and thought: What can I do now that my adventure racing days are over?

After evaluating the situation calmly, I knew that paddling was where I was strongest and happiest in adventure racing, and paddling didn’t involve my hips as much. Because I couldn’t run, I decided to focus on what I did well and loved, and became an ultra-distance kayak racer.

I also discovered how to handle bad news. Ultimately, I learned that you can become angry and blame everyone, or you can see opportunities and evaluate the situation without blame.

See Opportunities

The best way to handle bad news is to not view obstacles as the end of your journey, but rather as the beginning of a new one. Try to see challenges, not roadblocks.

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Accept and embrace adversity as a chance to learn and excel. This is what leaders in great companies do. In his book, From Good to Great, bestselling business researcher Jim Collins says leaders of great companies who receive bad news do two things: confront the brutal facts and keep faith that they will prevail.

This is what I did when I learned that I could no longer run. I accepted the brutal facts and then found an opportunity where I could still excel: paddling.

Evaluate Without Blame

The next thing you should do is conduct an autopsy of the situation, without apportioning blame. When confronted with bad news or a bad evaluation at work—after the initial shock, of course—calmly examine the situation.

Was someone being unfair to you, was it just bad luck, or do you need to improve? Once you've evaluated the situation, determine a course of action. Then next time, try harder, better, or differently. You may be surprised by your success.

Remember: It’s not what happens when you fail that matters, it’s what happens after. Your next success may look different or be in an entirely different field. But it will be a success. When I could no longer run because of my bad hips, I found my success in paddling. I earned three Guinness World Records—two for longest distance paddled in a kayak, and one for standup paddleboard in 24 hours. The kayaking record still stands!

My success would never have happened had I not confronted the brutal facts, examined the situation, and saw an opportunity where I had never thought to look before.

About the Author

Robyn Benincasa is a CNN Hero, motivational speaker, thought leader, world champion adventure racer, founder of Project Athena, and author of the New York Times bestseller How Winning Works.

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As the saying goes, when one door closes, another one opens. The key is not to spend too much time staring at the closed door.
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