How to Manage Disappointment


What is Disappointment?

Disappointment happens when our reality does not meet our hopes and or expectations. This may lead to feelings of frustration and even hopelessness. In some cases, you may become disappointed even if you do achieve your hopes and dreams. Late psychologist Sigmund Freud calls this, “wrecked by success,” where you achieve what you wanted but do not experience the bliss that you were hoping for.

Disappointment in Business

In business, leaders often become disappointed when they learn of their team’s shortcomings. Examples of shortcomings can include failing to meet a project deadline or missing performance goals. Regardless of past performance, the leader is disappointed because they were hoping for more from their team.

This type of disappointment usually happens because the leader did not clearly communicate their expectations. Without clear expectations, their team cannot understand what is acceptable performance; therefore, the team spends tireless hours working on what they believe the leader wants and eventually misses the mark.

From this, the leader may be unsure as to how to course correct. If they are too harsh, they may face backlash from their team. If they are too nice, the team will continue doing the wrong things. The business owner then believes that they are the only ones who can do it. In turn, this becomes a vicious cycle of disillusionment. More importantly, this cycle becomes unproductive to achieving the organization’s goals.

Why Does Managing Disappointment Matter?

Disappointment can lead to serious consequences. Individually, constant feelings of disappointment can lead to negative rumination and even depression. At work, these feelings of disappointment can devolve into lower productivity and performance. In the worst cases, it can even lead to a toxic work environment.

Furthermore, when you are disappointed, you may spend a vast amount of energy thinking about the past and what happened rather than thinking about moving forward. This type of behaviour is counterproductive, which leads you to fail at reaching your goals further. This becomes a vicious cycle that can be difficult to break. Thus, it is important for individuals, both for personal development and in business, to learn different tools and techniques for dealing with disappointment.

How Our Development Influences Our Response to Disappointment

Research shows that how our parents raised us influences our responses to disappointment.

Some people grow up by mitigating their feelings of disappointment. This means they will purposely set low bars in hopes of avoiding disappointment. Others may become overachievers, ensuring that they are able to reach their goals each and every time. In both scenarios, the individuals become more disappointed, as they either lead disappointing lives and or disappoint themselves by setting the bar too high.

Parents who raise their children with a good enough mentality enable their children to cope constructively with inevitable setbacks.

How to Overcome Disappointment

Being disappointed is an inevitable part of life; therefore, it is important to have tools for overcoming feelings of disappointment. There are a few key steps for overcoming disappointment:

  1. Understand what happened – instead of diving into feelings of deep disappointment, take time to understand what occurred. What is it about an event that triggered disappointment? What led up to this event?
  2. Determine whether the event was within your control – take time to understand whether what happened is within your control. If so, this is good news – because you can change the things you can control. If what happened is not within your control, acknowledge the event and let it go. There is no sense in dwelling on things that are out of your control.
  3. Reflect on whether your expectations are reasonable – were your expectations too high or too low? If they were too high, what can you do to reset your expectations? If they are too low, what are the beliefs that are holding you back?
  4. By taking the above steps, you can focus on learning lessons from experience and take corrective action if necessary. It will also help you reflect on whether your asks are reasonable. This can ultimately help you refine your personal expectations to align with what is achievable.

Additional things to take into consideration when reflecting on disappointment include:

  • If disappointment is a regular occurrence, reflect on your own perceptions and behaviours that may be triggering the event.
  • Always focus on being constructive. As mentioned before, leaving disappointment unchecked can lead to depression.
  • Tools for Creating Clarity

If you do not want to be disappointed, then be crystal clear with what you expect from others. Below are three tools that leaders can use to create clarity in their workplace.

Tool 1: Invest in Your Recruiting Strategy – as a leader, one of the best tools for creating clarity is to recruit team members who share your vision. By doing this, your team members will understand the importance and rationale of what you are doing without you explaining it. This can help eliminate long hours building buy-in and or explaining why what is being done is important. Additionally, these team members will naturally do the things they need to get to the goal.

Tool 2: Commit to Training Team Members – another way to bring clarity around your expectations is to invest in training for team members. Training creates a baseline that every team member is aware of and can work towards. Building an effective training program starts by listing the employees in your organization who you deem are successful. From there, identify the qualities and traits that you feel they possess that allow them to be successful. Finally, build a training program around instilling these traits into new employees.

Tool 3: Create Shared Understanding of Expectations – the last tool that can help drive clarity around expectations is to create a visible and shared understanding of expectations. Collaborate with your team members to show them what expectations are. Use examples of what the team deliverable needs to look like in order to demonstrate a standard. Alternatively, work with the team members in providing regular feedback so that they know what the expectations are.

Key Takeaways

  • Often times when teams do not live up to a business leader’s expectations, it is because the expectations were unclear.
  • When left unchecked, disappointment can lead to a vicious cycle where one obsesses about an event so much that it becomes counterproductive, leading to more disappointment.
  • Business leaders can minimize their disappointment by hiring team members who share a similar vision, training team members to a standard, and creating a shared understanding of their expectations.

Related Readings

Professional Leadership Institute (PLI) is an educational website providing professionals from all types of businesses with practical education in entrepreneurial leadership. To keep evolving your leadership toolkit, additional PLI resources below will be useful:

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