How to deal with disappointment at work

As the saying goes, 10% of life is what happens to you and 90% is how you deal with it. Michael Roberts explains how to move on from career setbacks

CREDIT: This is an edited version of an article which appeared on The Balance Careers website.

Dealing with disappointment at work is a prime example of how overcoming the obstacle can be more important than the obstacle itself. Maybe you got passed over for the promotion you really wanted. Perhaps the project you’ve been working on for months suddenly got cancelled for flimsy reasons. Or, perchance, your best friend at work took a job elsewhere.

No reasonable person expects another person to respond to disappointment like a robot. Obviously, humans have emotions – and when those emotions are shaken, people deal with them differently – some people handle tough emotions better than others. Professional disappointments are disappointments, nonetheless, and coping with them appropriately is important for future professional success.

Here’s how to deal with disappointment at work.

1. Be honest
If you can hide your emotions, join the World Poker Tour. For the rest of us, disappointment shows on our faces, in our tone of voice – and even how we walk.

People will know you are disappointed, so be honest about it. Don’t divulge details you’re not comfortable sharing, but respond to appropriate questions with candour and grace. If you can’t respond to a question, it is better to say so than to make up an answer. People will see right through a bluffed response because your words will not match your demeanour – and that leads your colleagues to trust you less.

2. Be respectful
Bad news can come suddenly, and it is easy to lash out at the person delivering the message or at the person responsible for the bad news. Resist that temptation. Do not engage in backbiting or open hostility; that is unproductive and career-limiting behaviour. As said, ‘To disagree, one doesn’t have to be disagreeable’ – this means you can hold a different opinion from someone else, without becoming that person’s enemy.

The key to doing this is being respectful. Disagreement does not have to build up metaphorical walls between people. Do not belittle or attack the other person. If you have to attack anything, attack ideas without making the attacks personal. Disagree with a decision, rather than the person who made it. The distinction is subtle, but it makes a huge difference in difficult conversations.

3. Get over it in a reasonable amount of time
Depending on how devastating the disappointment, it can take a lot of – or a little – time to get over it. Try to get over the disappointment quickly. Accept what you cannot change about the situation, cope with it and move on with your life. Show you are resilient. Misery loves company, but company doesn’t love it back! If you stay down in the dumps for too long, people will gravitate away from you. Your colleagues expect a bit of sadness – and a perceptive boss expects slight, temporary dips in employee engagement and productivity.

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If you can’t get over the disappointment in a reasonable amount of time, seek professional help; there is no shame in asking for help when you need it.

4. Don’t make rash decisions
The temptation to make rash decisions is similar to the temptation to lash out at others. Emotions and, perhaps, tempers are heightened. Do not let your compulsions dictate your behaviour. In the moment, it may seem satisfying to undermine whatever – or whoever – is causing your disappointment, or to throw your hands up and quit. Doing so, however, would be incredibly short-sighted. You may not be in the right frame of mind to make decisions, so cool off before making any big ones.

5. Decide what to do next
Some disappointments are easy to process and move past – but others are not. If you’re dealing with a game-changing disappointment, you need to decide what you’re going to do in the wake of it. Again, don’t make rash decisions.

Perhaps the disappointment is something you just need a little bit of time to get over. At the other end of the spectrum, you may need to look for a new job. Only you can decide what you are going to do. Take advice from those you trust and make the best decisions you can, given the information you have.

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