How you deal with work disappointment is key

Most of us have experienced workplace disappointment: Maybe something didn't work out how you had intended, or perhaps you've been passed over for promotion.

We often have a knee-jerk reaction to workplace disappointment that can result in tension, resentment, bitterness or hurried job applications dashed off in anger to join the competition, however this often only makes things worse.

How you deal with this situation is significantly more important than the disappointment itself.

Our career development cycle is a perpetual wheel of self-reflection and awareness, opportunity connection, transition and learning, and we need to be conscious of the stage that we are at as we go through the process mindfully and purposefully.

Every experience offers us an opportunity to get something out of it that can better our sense of self-knowledge, direction, values and/or purpose.

It's all in the way we cope with the professional disappointment that holds the key to finding a positive outcome in moving forward.

Firstly, let's acknowledge that your disappointment is unlikely to be invisible.

Your colleagues/supervisor who know what has happened will expect you to be feeling disappointed when something goes wrong at work.

It's OK to not be a happy little camper and acknowledge how you are feeling.

You don't need to share everything, but acknowledging your response respectfully, gracefully and without lashing out will add to the authenticity of your communication and professionalism in the workplace.

If you try to shrug it off when it really does impact you, your colleagues will see through the bluff and this could cause issues of trust, which will do you no favours in the long run.

Many clients who I work with struggle to deal with disappointment authentically without crossing the line and "saying what they really think." We've all likely experienced this struggle!

It can be a welcome thought to imagine letting loose on a boss who let you down or a team member who dropped the ball, but the short-term gain (i.e. the release of pent-up stress and tension) usually has negative long-term impact (such as spiralling team culture, low morale, distrust and loss of respect).

Take the time to reflect on how you are really feeling about the situation. Can you find a silver lining?

The first question you need to ask yourself is, what do you want to achieve out of this situation?

The first step is looking at it within a broader context. Did you have a role to play in the outcome? Wherever possible, seek feedback and support to identify any areas that you can enhance your skills in, whether that is related to a promotion, communication breakdown or work outcomes.

This will enable you to recognise your own power in the situation to effect change in the future and can positively impact your ability to feel in control of what you are doing and where you are headed.

From here, you can think about what's next. For example, if you have been passed over for a promotion and now have to deal with having a former colleague being your supervisor, do you want to build a professional relationship with this person and move forward together, or do you think this will be too complicated/difficult?

Take the time to reflect on how you are really feeling about the situation. Can you find a silver lining?

They say when one door closes, another one opens, so take the blinkers off and perhaps look at what other opportunities are out there to pivot to. This doesn't have to be a new position; it could be a secondment, a project or even redeveloping your own role with some fresh perspective.

Some of my greatest achievements have come from some of my greatest disappointments. I have discovered that much of our sense of success is driven by our perspective and our willingness to shift it in order to recognise new opportunities we hadn't identified before.

Allow yourself to transition into your new perspective with a little excitement for what could be, as you now find yourself colouring outside the lines and considering new ideas that had never previously occurred to you.

Perhaps the most important part of this process is the learning.

Always seek the chance to learn something about yourself, your work or your team. If you can focus on this, no experience is ever a wasted opportunity.

Zoë Wundenberg is a careers writer and coach at