5 Ways to Manage Disappointment at Work


Devastated. Powerless.

That’s how it feels when you’re dealt a major disappointment at work.

Your project was cut. You got passed over—again—for that promotion. Your whole team got bigger bonuses than you did. You lost the big sale. One of your reports made a costly mistake.

You’re not alone. Successful employees, from mid-level managers to C-suite veterans, weather big blows in the workplace all the time. But when you’re in the middle of it, it doesn’t feel like a common experience at all. It feels like it could spell the end of your tenure at your current workplace—or derail your entire career.

How do you cope?

First, realize that success doesn’t make you immune to disappointment. Then work on these areas:

Don’t Be Rash

In the wake of a big disappointment, it’s easy to feel like no option other than a big, dramatic one is appropriate. Like quitting. Or bad-mouthing your former boss or company.

This is not the time to make big decisions or pronouncements. High emotions can equal outsize reactions. Recognize that you’re angry or frustrated and leave it at that. Control your compulsions and focus on how to respond rather than react. Breathe. Sort out your options when you’re in a calmer state of mind.

Anticipate the Fallout

When a crisis happens, at home or at work, you’ll respond. Strongly. Timothy Butler, writing for the Harvard Business Review, notes that these “career shocks” may be distressing, but they’re also predictable.

Anticipate the strong emotions that will bubble to the surface in the wake of disappointment. You’ll feel angry or defensive. You’ll want to fight back. Your inner critic will rear its head. Let the process play out, being aware of the emotions that go along with it.

Manage Your Emotions

Once you’ve acknowledged and owned your emotions, it’s time to move on. Or at least compartmentalize. If you need to vent, vent at home. If you need to cry, do it in private.

Visibly venting your disappointment at work is a huge risk that can damage your relationships or reputation with employees, colleagues, or management. Keep it to yourself when you’re at work. If you need help, consider talking with someone outside your work system. A career consultant or coach, mentor, family member, or friend may be able to give you perspective

Learn From the Experience

You may feel devastated or even immobilized now. Lift yourself up by observing the situation and your own reactions to it. Actively seek new ways to view the situation.

And accept that disappointment is part of work, and part of life. It can even be an ally. A big disappointment makes you stronger by challenging and stretching your skills. Sometimes a great success is the direct result of a shocking disappointment.

Get Prepared

Knowing that disappointments are unavoidable, seek out advice from professional people you know who handle them well. Even if your current situation is great, have a Plan B in mind, just in case.

And if you need to address a work situation, make a plan. Whether it’s sitting down for a serious conversation with a colleague, approaching  your boss, or searching for a new job, act from a place of strength, clarity, and compassion for yourself and others around you.

And if you’re a manager dealing with employees? Develop a personal, team, or department strategy to manage disappointment so these kinds of difficult events will have less impact on morale, performance, and relationships.

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