We all face disappointment and upset in our work and personal lives. Things often do not turn out as we hope. I was recently engaged in a coaching conversation with a manager and we engaged in a very heartfelt dialogue on disappointment and upset. This prompted me to do some reflection on how as leaders, we deal with the topic of disappointment and upset.
Minor or Major Disappointment?
At one end of the spectrum there may be minor disappointment and upset, like not enjoying the meal in our favourite restaurant, our spouse forgetting our birthday, or receiving a poor evaluation from our supervisor. At the opposite end of the spectrum there may be major disappointment and upset, such as learning of a devastating diagnosis, grieving the loss of a loved one, or the breakup of a marriage. In looking at what these disappointments and upsets have in common, we can consider that they may stem from unfulfilled expectation (not getting what we want or getting what we don’t want), or miscommunication (either something was said or unsaid that evoked strong and unsettled emotion). Ultimately, we are left with feelings of disappointment, upset, resentment, and perhaps anger.
We are usually very quick to blame the other person for our disappointment or upset. Our inner dialogue may say “They didn’t select me for the manager job and I don’t know why, I am the most experienced and qualified candidate”. Or, “My supervisor doesn’t like me, so I am not surprised I received a poor evaluation”. We are less inclined to look inside and inquire about the nature and source of our expectation.
We often make it a personal attack and let the ego get in the way. If we look at some of the Emotional Intelligence traits, we can explore our ability to apply empathy (seeing things from another’s point of view), reality testing (seeing things from an objective perspective), impulse control (avoiding rash behaviours), optimism (having a positive outlook), emotional self-awareness (being in tune with our own emotions) and flexibility (adapting to dynamic circumstances).
Perspective & Resilience
We can leverage these attributes to support us in gaining perspective, building resilience and helping not make something too personal.
How do we begin to move forward from these disappointments and upsets? How can we honour our feelings without getting stuck in resentment? What Emotional Intelligence traits assist us to navigate in an effective way without stifling our feelings?
Being disappointed and getting upset is part of being human. While we may never be able to completely avoid becoming disappointed and upset, we may be able to pause and ask ourselves some questions that help move us forward such as:
- What expectations do I hold in this situation?
- Which of my expectations have not been met?
- What assumptions are my expectations based on?
- Are these shared and communicated expectations or are they simply my expectations?
- How do I choose to interpret this experience?
- Am I choosing an empowered interpretation or am I feeling like a victim?
- If I could view this situation more objectively, what might it look like?