Productive Leaders

Ph.D., CSP, CDR, US Navy Ret.,
CPAE Speaker Hall of Fame

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Dealing with disappointments

Have you ever looked forward to an event and then felt let down when certain things did not go as well as you hoped? For our family, friends, and colleagues, we tend to have a set of standards and expectations, and when those expectations are not met, we experienced a sense of sadness, loss, disappointment, and sometimes, betrayal.

In the past few weeks, I have been disappointed by a bounced check by a fellow member of an association, audience members who blatantly stole some of my books, and a colleague whose bitterness extended to some of the people who were kindest to him. In the grand scheme of life, none of these are earth-shattering or life-threatening. But they were still disappointing.

How do we deal with disappointments? What do we do when people surprise us by failing to do the right thing, or by deliberately behaving badly?

We have a few choices about how we respond:

1. We can confront the other person and hope that we can persuade them to remedy the situation. Most of us in business have been taught to communicate with the end purpose in mind. If we are confident that the other person’s behavior is unlikely or unable to change, a confrontation may make us feel better, but it will not resolve the situation. However, if the confrontation stops the bad behavior, the confrontation is necessary.

Many people shy away from confrontation, either because they recognize the futility of the act or because they do not want to further aggravate themselves. This, of course, allows people to continue with their bad behavior.

2. We can conduct a cost-benefit analysis of the situation and determine whether it is worth our time and energy to address the situation. If this situation is unlikely to be repeated, it may be more cost-effective to acknowledge the situation for what it was, and move on. If a resolution attempt cannot solve the situation, it may be wisest to simply accept the situation as a lesson learned, and move on.

I confess, until this month, I have never received a bounced check before. I was chagrined that a $30 bounced check also incurred $15 in fees charged to me by my bank. So not only am I out the $30 owed to me, but I am penalized for trusting someone else’s personal check. This is a bit of a quandary. Clearly, if they don’t have the $30, chances of getting the extra $15 seem slim as well.  Do I call them? Do I pursue the matter? Or do I simply make it my new policy to not accept personal checks? I decided to do none of those things. I decided to let it go, because the opportunity cost of pursuing a $45 loss seemed greater than the actual $45. I calculated that it would take me a few hours of significant irritation to attempt to recover this money owed, and it would result in embarrassment to them, and possibly increase the level of hardship they are currently experiencing. (Now, honestly, if the check was a few decimal places larger, I might arrive at a different conclusion.)

3. We can change the way we conduct business to protect ourselves from possible loss. I can choose to insulate myself from other people. I can make it a practice not to accept personal checks. I can hire security guard for my books. We can choose how we react when other people disappoint us, and acknowledging that we have choices with how we react gives us control over the situation. We cannot control how other people behave or how they think, but we can always control our own reaction. We can choose to allow this to upset us, or not. (I chose not to change anything about my business practices.)

4. We can understand the frailty of the human spirit, realize that life is not always fair, and know people are going to make mistakes that disappoint us. It can be disheartening to focus on the negative consequences, whether intended or not.

Sometimes the right thing to do, for our own best interests, is to chalk up the injury as a lesson learned, practice the fine art of forgiveness, and move on with a new sense of gratitude that these disappointments stand out because they are relatively rare. It should increase our gratitude for the fabulous people in our lives who are fabulous, and reminds us that we should try not to disappoint others (even inadvertently) as well.

Disappointments, therefore, serve as a reminder to show heartfelt appreciation for the people in our lives who stand up for us when things go wrong, the people who do the right thing at their own personal expense, and those who continually strive to genuinely give to others without expecting anything in return.


  1. M.K.

    Good job, Mary! Your ideas make for a happier outlook! Thanks!

  2. rkmsez

    Now see, that’s the kind of information that’s useful both on a business and personal level. Your relevance is refreshing!

  3. M Shelton

    Mary, your comments are always uplifting and positive. I always feel better after I have read your blog! Thanks for that! Something else you can do with regards to your returned check…make sure that your bank processed the check twice. Most checks will be paid the second time through the system. And a personal observation, $15 for a returned check? Wow, we only charge our customers $4. Thanks Mary!


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