At one point or another, we’ll all be on the receiving end of disruptive professional news which can leave us feeling blindsided and vulnerable. Would you be prepared to act professionally?

Earlier this spring, Kelly Ripa learned that her Live! co-host Michael Strahan was exiting their joint show minutes before news went public. Ripa, the charismatic force behind ABC’s wildly popular morning talk show, was effectively blindsided by the news– leaving her in a very public and very awkward lurch. Ripa responded by using a planned family vacation to take time off and regroup. When she did resume co-hosting duties a few days later, Ripa put a positive spin on situation and joked that the ‘national crisis’ was now over.

Unfortunately for Ripa, the story doesn’t end there. The press ridiculed Ripa for how she handled the news, calling her a “diva” and a “prima donna” and labeling her time off a “meltdown.” While the dust has since settled for Ripa and Live! (Strahan officially left in May and Ripa is now auditioning replacements), the incident is an important reminder about the need for open communication and consideration in the workplace. Even Oprah rushed to Ripa’s defense stating that, “Nobody should ever be blindsided… You shouldn’t have to read it in the paper. Ever.”

Luckily for most of us, our day-to-day workplace dramas don’t play out on the national stage: the New York Daily News doesn’t publish unflattering headlines about our careers and Oprah doesn’t weigh in on our latest professional challenge. But at one point or another, we’ll all be in Ripa’s position: on the receiving end of disruptive professional news with virtually no warning. Management changes, a project or client demotion, or a sudden buy-out offer can leave us feeling blindsided and vulnerable. Would you be prepared to act professionally?

As a VP of Human Resources, I’ve helped numerous professionals navigate tricky career transitions and upheavals. Here’s how to make the most of this difficult situation:

  1. Stay cool under pressure. When we’re caught off guard, our fight or flight instincts automatically kick in. It’s perfectly natural that your gut response may be to yell, pound the table in frustration, or even curse. Don’t. How you react can impact your ability to manage the situation in your favor or successfully transition to a job elsewhere. Stay calm and, as soon as possible, politely excuse yourself from the conversation. Head outside to clear your head, call your spouse or a friend from a private location, and take time to gather your thoughts.
  2. Assess your options. If your workplace situation has taken a decided turn for the worse, assess your pathways for affecting change. For example, if your supervisor just asked you to move onto a new project or team, is there room for negotiation? You may not be able to stay at your current position, but can you negotiate other benefits, like flextime or telecommuting, that will offset the change? When you do counteroffer, steer clear of emotionally charged language such as “This isn’t fair” or “I don’t deserve this.” Instead, cite specific examples of your workplace contributions and reiterate your commitment to the team’s long-term success.
  3. Reach out to your network. Don’t have an exit strategy in place? Now’s the time to put one together. Put the word out to your network that you’re interested in pursuing new professional challenges. Be discrete when discussing your current job situation. Even if you believe that you’ve been truly wronged, others may not share your perspective and misconstrue your comments. Keep everything positive and spare others the details of your professional drama.

Being blindsided at work can feel like a very personal attack. Remember that in most cases, your supervisor’s decision is for the betterment of the company and not motivated out of personal antagonism. Try to see things from both perspectives: could this situation have been avoided through better communication or goal alignment? Or, is this a case of a toxic work environment that you’re better off exiting as soon as possible? No matter how out-of-control the situation may feel, you are always in control of your response. Conducting yourself with professionalism keeps the door open for future advancement at your current company or an easier transition to a new position elsewhere.

Have you ever been blindsided at work? I invite you to share your experience in the comments below.