Recently I had to deliver some bad news. It was one of those situations where I could always come up with a reason to delay the conversation. It never seemed to be the right time; there was always something to consider that would make the information more difficult to bear. So I put it off and then I put it off some more. Because maybe somehow I would magically come up with a better way to deliver the bad news. Maybe the recipients of the bad news would show me some sort of sign that the time was right. I ended up waiting longer than I probably should have to deliver the news. Since I have been in the situation of delivering bad news before, I was fully aware of the reaction I would receive. I knew that the first reaction would be shock, followed by denial, fear, anger, bargaining, depression, and then finally acceptance.
But the one emotion I wasn’t expecting to see in this situation, but did, was relief. Not the type of relief where people say “Wow, I’m so glad you told me that...thanks for making my day!” but the type of relief that can be viewed by actions...a desire to chat about other topics, the ability to make a joke about the situation, a smile...these are all subtle signs that say “the outcome wasn’t really as bad as I expected it to be and I’m moving forward.”
When people anticipate that something negative might happen in their life, the anxiety can eat away at them. The anxiety is often greater than the consequences of the bad news itself. We are experiencing times where there is a lot of anxiety about bad news in the workplace. I talk to people every day who feel insecure in their jobs. There are constant rumors of layoffs and restructurings. And the rumors fuel anxiety which can manifest itself in all sorts of health issues. And those issues are indeed worse than the news itself.
Many people feel powerless in these situations. They feel overworked as they pick up the workload of employees who were previously let go and they begin to resent management for their choices. They stew and get frustrated because they feel that they have no control over their situation and just have to wait it out. They rationalize that they shouldn’t push their luck by trying to look for something new…especially in an economy such as this one.
So when “the other shoe drops” and they are the one called into the manager’s office to discover they are being let go, sometimes the most telling reaction is relief. Because while the news is bad, it’s often better than not knowing your fate. Knowledge gives you power...the power to move on and start a job search because you finally have no choice but to accept that your position has gone away. And in my opinion, that is a much better place to be.