How to Deal With Professional Disappointment at Work

Businessman dealing with professional disappointment at work
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As the saying goes, 10% of life is what happens to you, and 90% is how you deal with it. 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 canceled 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. Some people handle tough emotions better than others. Obviously, humans have emotions, and when those emotions are shaken, people deal with those emotions differently. Professional disappointments are disappointments nonetheless, and coping with them appropriately is important for future professional success.

Be Honest

If you can hide your emotions, join the World Poker Tour because you can make a lot of money when you can pass off off-suit two and seven for pocket aces. For the rest of us, disappointment shows on our faces, 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 candor 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 demeanor, and that leads your colleagues to trust you less.

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 behavior. 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.

Get Over It in a Reasonable Amount of Time

Depending on how devastating the disappointment, it can take a lot or a little time to get over it. If you don’t get all the funding you want for a particular project or function, it is a minor disappointment. If you get passed over for a promotion in favor of someone you believe is a poor fit for the position, that has considerably more sting.

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 satisfaction, engagement and productivity.

If you can’t get over the disappointment in a reasonable amount of time, seek professional help. Many employers contract with employee assistance program providers who have staff or subcontractors trained to help people process their emotions. There is no shame in asking for help when you need it.

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 behavior. In the moment, it may seem satisfying to undermine whatever or whoever is causing your disappointment or to throw your hands up and quit, but doing so 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.

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 time to get over, but 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.