You could say our brains are hardwired to find things we like, that bring moments of joy into our everyday. We also know from psychologists like Daniel Kahneman that when things go the opposite way, they feel far more weighty, and impactful.
In my own experience lows hit much harder than highs. Why is that? There’s a bit of brain science that might help us understand why. And even a few books we might recommend on emotional intelligence and how to navigate those difficult moments we all face.
Running and growing a business is more akin to riding a rollercoaster than skipping along a footpath. There are sharp turns, ups and downs, and sometimes you want to scream. You don’t often know the journey ahead. Sure, you can bring plans to the table. But things don’t always work out exactly like they should have on paper.
When the eventual happens, there are a number of costs involved. Whether that’s relational, like losing trust with your customers, financial, like loss of time or money, or your brand’s reputation. Things which are best avoided, but sometimes unavoidable. These losses appear larger than any possible gains we can see at the time. And it’s so easy to jump into a track of downward thinking. Yet we know too, that this type of thinking isn’t contributing anything positive, and isn’t looking forward to resolution and recovery.
Here’s a few thoughts.
Disappointment is inevitable
While we’d like to live in a world under our complete control with Ts crossed, Is dotted and processes clear, at times things will simply go pear-shaped. And what we do when the inevitable happens is our opportunity. When confronted with disappointment we get to make a choice we haven’t had to make. Perhaps you’ve dropped the ball. Or one of your team members has. Maybe you’ve said something you shouldn’t have. Maybe all of the above. While it is your prerogative to do what you see fit, the approach we take is keep the relationship at the centre and to work out a way forward. Given relationships are one of our core values, this approach makes sense for us.
Always lead with empathy
Address the disappointment in question. Don’t sweep it under the rug and hope everything will work out okay. Equally, don’t let it fester. Keep the relationship bigger than the problem. Show empathy, understanding and kindness. Don’t avoid it, but gently go to it. It seems counterintuitive but acknowledging what’s happened is a key part of the process.
Disappointment is an opportunity for delight
When disappointment happens, an opportunity for reconciliation and delight has been made available. Although it might be easier to abandon ship and hide, good leaders walk the tightrope of decisions, actions and responses in a way that protects others, and themselves.
Yet it’s one of those things very few people ever plan for, or consider. And while what we’re talking about is not even close to pandemic levels, we can find similarities, in that, when things we are unprepared for happen, there’s always an opportunity.
The science of reward
Interestingly, when considering delight, the element of surprise makes it all the better. When you know you’re getting a birthday gift, it’s nice. But when it’s a Tuesday, and you come home to find a thoughtful gift on your doorstep, it means all the more. Neurologically this is true. In fact, it’s the very thing social media giants and casinos leverage to keep people glued to their products. Unexpected or random rewards release more dopamine than rewards you can expect or are patterned; they do something different in your brain. Reward is good, random reward is better.
The value of difficult
Disappointments are difficult. Both difficulty and disappointment are places we choose to avoid if we can. And when we find ourselves there, it’s not often by choice. We don’t set out to find difficult things or to discover a new disappointment each day. It would be concerning if we did. While sometimes we honestly do find ourselves there by the result of our own choices, sometimes these things are created by external forces, things we cannot control.
Hope, however, is not lost. If we choose to, disappointment and difficulty can offer us something joy and smooth sailing cannot. As Edwin Freidman suggests, the difficult offers a unique perspective, and an opportunity for growth in maturity. When we avoid hard things and choose a quick fix, we miss out on this.
To become more self aware and responsible, with the ability to self regulate, isn't disappointing by any means. It's an opportunity to grow, in business and as a person — and that's never a bad thing.