How Do You Respond to Someone’s Bad Day? Helping them and you

 In Negative emotions, Relationships

How Do You Respond To Someone’s Bad Day? How do you respond when someone is ranting about their bad day?  How can you avoid getting caught up in the drama and frustration while helping to calm the situation?  We’ve all probably had this experience with family members and coworkers.

Here’s an approach I’ve found to be very useful at work and at home.

When I picked up my 12-year-old daughter from school this past week, I quickly realized she’d had a “terrible” day. First, there was a test she was supposed to take before school (I had to run her in early). She anxiously waited in the hall for 20 minutes, wondering why her teacher didn’t show up. When her teacher finally arrived, my daughter found out that the test was being given by a different teacher in the room next door. Now it was too late to take it, and she’d have to try a different day.  

Then she shared her maddening disappointment about her art club. She’d been asking the teacher when they would be able to sign-up to paint a specific project that would get displayed in the school. He kept saying, “Soon.”  When she asked on this day, he told her, “You’re too late. You had to sign up last week.” She was in class last week and was terribly frustrated that she had somehow missed it. Now she would have to wait another year to be part of this exciting project!

As she vented her frustration, I quickly realized what I should and shouldn’t do. I should NOT try to cheer her up or tell her it wasn’t a big deal. It was a very big deal to her!  

One of the best ways to respond when someone is clearly upset (and flooded in cortisol) is to listen and validate their feelings. “That sounds very stressful!  I’m so sorry!”  

The next step, only once they’re done venting, is to distract them with something they’ll find interesting or exciting. “Are any of your friends going to the Halloween party tomorrow?”  Soon she was back to her normal, happy self. Phew!!  

How have you responded to someone’s bad day in the past?  Would this approach have been helpful?  Give it a try at the next opportunity.


Tina Hallis, Ph.D., is a speaker, trainer, and founder of The Positive Edge, a company dedicated to teaching organizations and individuals the power of positivity to improve the quality of people’s work lives and the quality of company cultures.

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