#272 from Innovative
Leader Volume 6, Number 4
With Bad News
Perry, an organizational psychologist, is president of JM Perry
Corporation in Palo Alto, California (phone 800-358-2082, email
He has written over 50 articles on management, leadership
and team performance, and is co-author of The
Road to Optimism—Change Your Language…Change Your Life (Manfit
Press, San Ramon, CA, 1997).
A friend of mine
had just completed a relaxing supper with friends and family from
out of town. They
were in the mountains for the weekend and decided to follow the
meal with a casual stroll under a canopy of stars rarely seen from
cities. As the group
walked, my friend silently hoped that mother nature or some
Supreme Being would see fit to bless them with a shooting star. He had them stop and look up, then walk, then wait again, and
so on. He hoped for a
dazzling bright one, but it never came.
Although he knew there were dozens of shooting stars each
evening, he felt there was a lesson to be learned.
This lesson was to feel the loss or disappointment even
when a win was in sight and to know that this will happen
again—to be prepared to smile, stay positive, and walk back to
the house for a nice, hot, after-dinner coffee.
From this mini-disappointment he learned an insightful
lesson about being denied what he was expecting and how to handle
the mental and emotional feelings.
This article will
provide ammunition to protect you during the inevitable tough
times. I’ll present
several situations where something went wrong or the worst seemed
to happen. Is there
still room for optimism and a forward-thinking attitude?
You bet there is. Let's
take a look.
in the filming of “Jaws,” said that the mechanical shark kept
breaking down. Scenes
were cut short or postponed as mechanics hurriedly attempted to
repair the vital movie prop.
Unfortunately it continued to have problems.
Being on a tight filming schedule, they had to rewrite
portions of the script and keep shooting without the shark.
negative response: "These
lazy support people can’t get it right.
Why is it that whenever we need props and special effects
for filming they are never ready. We won’t be able to depend on their reliability—they
don't come through for us. We'll
have to quit filming until we get the shark working properly. We may never finish this film."
positive response: "The
mechanical shark will be working again.
Since we have yet to know exactly when, we have a few
options. We can film
other scenes that don't require the shark, or we can rethink some
of the scenes and use the suspense and the audience's imagination
to get the same scary result.
Whatever the case, we'll get it done."
malfunctioning shark forced Spielberg to build in suspense with
close-up shots, intrigue and mystery.
The result was a super success that earned great profits,
largely as a result of having a broken shark.
Most people can vividly recall their reactions, many years
after viewing the film, as they watched the scary scenes in the
theater while they held their breath, closed their eyes, or pulled
a partner close.
called it Stunde Null or Zero Hour.
The Allies had won and the Russians were demolishing
Berlin. Hitler was
dead in his bunker and payback had begun.
The German nation had hit bottom.
The Allies divided the country (and also Berlin) into
French, British, American and Russian sectors run by the
respective countries. The
Germans were required to pay staggering war reparations.
The situation was bleak.
negative response: "This
isn't fair. One
political party comes to power and the leader turns out to be a
maniac. We never
agreed to all that he said or did.
It's not our fault. There
was nothing we could do to stop him.
These reparations will kill us.
There is no way we can rebuild with the entire world on our
positive response: "There
is one place to go, and that is up.
We will produce even without our factories.
We will rebuild even without the male population in the
cities. The war is
over and the mistakes are in the past.
Let's focus on peace and progress."
called it "Wirtschaftswunder," this industrial miracle
that took place in the ten to fifteen years after World War II.
The German people seemed to collectively display the
optimistic reaction that led to quick rebuilding.
The investment and the re-tooling were paying off.
Their gross domestic product met, then surpassed that of
most industrialized nations.
The German deutschmark is now a cornerstone of world
For a writer, the
news was bad and would get worse.
While living in Paris with his first wife, Hadley, Ernest
Hemingway worked diligently on his first book manuscript. It was during the 1920's and he, a reporter, had decided to
write a novel. He and
his wife were poor and barely making it on his salary.
The book would be their ticket to fame and fortune. Unfortunately, one day he was to meet his wife at a train
station and she was to bring him the manuscript.
Then tragedy struck. There
are different versions of what happened, but the result is that
the manuscript was lost. At
first, a furious Hemingway blamed everyone, including his wife.
This was in the days when this mishap meant months of
reconstruction, rewriting and retyping.
negative response: "It's
missing. This is the
worst that could ever happen.
I will never be able to recreate this work.
There is no one I can depend on—not even my wife.
It's not fair after all the work I've done.
I'll never get the rewards I deserve."
positive response: "It's
missing. This is
pretty bad, but there is some hope and there are several options.
I have talent and skill.
If necessary, I can redo the book and maybe even make it
better. I'm sure this
has happened to others and they made it through it. So can I."
went on to write and publish blockbusters including The
Sun Also Rises, For Whom The Bell Tolls and The
Old Man And The Sea. He
also won the Nobel Prize for literature, and is enshrined as an
American cultural and literary legend.
And the missing manuscript remained missing.
consultant spent eighteen months developing a proposal and inching
through the interview and approval process.
She weighed her extensive commitment of time and resources
against the nine-part package she hoped to win.
The organization was a combined branch of the government
and a major research university.
She pressed on and finally received a letter saying that
she had won the contract.
A few weeks
later, however, she was sorely disappointed after learning that
several other consulting firms had also won the contract.
Since the client could not decide in a timely fashion, the
organization divided the contract into pieces, and awarded them
piecemeal to several bidders.
negative response: "Those
sneaky bureaucrats can't be trusted.
This isn't fair. Now I've lost several months and significant expense dollars.
I also lost eight out of the nine pieces of the contract.
I'll never make any money on it at this rate."
positive response: "This
is disappointing but I can handle it.
I won one out of the set, and I have already developed most
of the materials during the past eighteen months.
This is a good lesson, so I'll remember to check out the
details and keep my expectations in line."
faithfully performed the services and refrained from angrily
telling the administrators how unfair she initially felt the
decision had been. Her
program ended up being the only one repeated and contract was
signed again for the next five years.
Dealing with bad
news requires an ability to position the trauma in a way in which
you can recover. By
being positive—optimistic, even when the news is very bad—will
enable you to recover faster.
Times can be tough and situations can be heartbreaking.
We are humans and we come equipped with a wonderful range
of senses and emotions. We
may not always understand the meaning or the reasons attached to
losing or why we must experience the bad things in life.
What we do know is that our reactions can make losing even
worse and the bad news more tragic.
A great response is to use what we can control (our
language) and focus on rebounding from the losses and recovering
from the bad news with our heads held high and our optimism fully
to Remember/Things to Do
Your reaction to small losses or disappointments is a clue
to how you may react to larger issues.
Explore feelings of loss or disappointment.
It helps to briefly think about them or talk with someone
An optimistic explanatory style interprets difficult events
in terms of possibilities and options.
A pessimistic explanatory style describes setbacks with
limits, problems, and deficits.
Positive language gears you to consider tangible and
realistic ways you can deal with work and life.
Negative language can take heartbreaking situations and
make them worse. Positive
language is a better choice.
It’s more likely that your tough case studies will turn
into potential-packed options.
Sometimes you lose and sometimes the news is bad, but your
reaction is the critical element.