Jennifer, one of our coaching clients, has been preparing for an event in her county designed to highlight agriculture in the area. As chair of the day's events, she was responsible for overseeing the logistics of the day – from catering to transportation to speakers and tours – in order to ensure that visitors have a good time and learn more about agriculture and farming.
Well, last week, the event finally arrived. In the days leading up to it, Jennifer was feeling on top of her game – dashing from here to there, making calls and finalizing details to make sure everything would run smoothly.
And then the inevitable happened.
Less than 48 hours before the event, she got a call that her transportation vendor – which was going supposed to shuttle attendees from one tour location to another – had to cancel.
Faced with what seemed like an insurmountable challenge, Jennifer was faced with a question we all get at some point in time: What do you do when things go wrong?
A Common Challenge
No matter the company, industry or location, challenges like these are common.
- How do I stay motivated when I get rejected over and over again by prospective customers?
- How do I keep my chin up when I keep losing business to a competitor?
- How do I continue to deliver excellent customer service when I'm short staffed?
- How do I deal with the unexpected departure of one of my most talented employees?
- How do I move forward after a failed relationship?
- How do I stay active after an unexpected injury?
And in each of these situations, the underlying question is this: how do you respond when things don't go according to plan?
Do you get angry? Do you numb the emotion (e.g., with alcohol, television or food)? Do you get complacent and just say, "Well, I guess that's how it goes..."?
Sure, we each get to choose our reaction. But, in both Jennifer's situation and others we've faced, there are some strategies that are more productive than others.
1. Create Space to Process the Situation
When Jennifer first got the call from the transportation vendor that they had to cancel, she was immediately hit with a wave of emotions: anger, panic, frustration, fear. And it was a bit overwhelming. When we talked to her later during a coaching session, she was upfront with that fact by saying, "I wasn't in a good place – I didn't know what to do."
And that's okay.
When things don't go as expected, it is completely normal to feel as though you're not sure what just happened – after all, your world just got rocked. So, first things first, you have to create space for yourself to process what just happened. That might look like:
- Going for a walk
- Closing your eyes and taking 5-10 deep breaths
- Doing a short meditation
- Heading to the gym for a quick workout (I find punching a boxing bag to be good for clearing your mind!)
- Talking to a close friend or colleague
Jennifer chose to talk to someone who was planning the event with her. By talking it out, she was able to verbalize the problem, how it made her feel and calm down a little before moving forward.
A word of warning...
This is not about spinning your wheels and telling the same negative story over and over again. It could have been very easy for Jennifer to fall into the trap of thinking repeatedly, "Those stupid people! I can't believe they put me in this situation! Couldn't they have given me a little heads-up? We're never going to be able to make this work now!!"
Which would have been less than helpful.
While giving yourself time to work through what just happened is valuable, it's only productive if you decide to do something about it. If you're just going to complain about the tough spot you're in, you might as well give up now.
2. Identify your options
As Jennifer was talking to her colleague, first to process the problem and then to figure out the next steps forward, it became clear that she had a few options:
- Start calling up other transportation vendors to see if anyone had another bus and driver available
- Rent a bunch of SUVs or vans and canvas the company for anyone willing to drive people between tour stops
- Reach out to a colleague's brother, who happened to own a party bus, and see if it was available
While her plans hadn't gone as she'd hoped, there were definitely other ways to fix the situation.
What are your options for tackling the problem in front of you?
- If you're short staffed, you could:
- Rearrange workloads to have your remaining employees pick up the slack for a little while
- Reassign someone from a different department
- Pick up those tasks yourself
- Hire a temporary worker or freelancer
- If you keep getting rejected by prospects, you could:
- Offer them a sample of your product to try for free or at a lower cost
- Talk to your manager about offering them a lower priced bid
- Look for opportunities to "run into them" at an industry event, where you know you can orchestrate a lower stakes conversation
- Walk away from the business and look for a better opportunity
- If you've got an injury, you could:
- Switch up your normal exercise routine to something less strenuous (e.g., stop lifting weights and start going to yoga)
- Walk, instead of run
- Focus on a different area of the body (e.g., if you pulled a leg muscle, switch to doing arm exercises while that muscle recovers)
It can be easy, in the heat of the moment, to believe there's no solution to your problem. But if you take a few minutes, you'll find that there are often at least a few possible options in front of you.
3. Choose a Plan and Move Forward
In the end, Jennifer chose to reach out to the colleague's brother with the bus and ask her father-in-law (who has a bus driver's license) to act as their chauffeur for the day. It wasn't her Plan A, but it got the job done and could be accomplished on the tight time frame she was stuck with. Plus, it ended up saving money!
When things go wrong, perfection is rarely an option anymore. Therefore, your next best solution is just to pick a plan and execute on it to the best of your ability. In most cases, you'll have better feedback from accomplishing something – anything – than you would if you had chosen to sit and wallow in your own misery.
So get to work!
A Few Other Thoughts...
Leverage Your Strengths – and Your Team's
Very often, our strengths have a big impact on how we respond to unexpected challenges.
For example, if you have Flexibility or Resilience as one of your strengths, chances are you're pretty good at rolling with the punches, switching gears quickly and coming up with a new plan.
If those aren't in your set of strengths, you may find that bouncing back is harder. However, you might have some others you can leverage to move on to the next step.
Take stock of your strengths – what abilities do you have that energize you, that you can put to work when you're in a tough situation?
On the flip side, what strengths do your teammates have? If you've got someone who's better suited to working through a tough problem, leverage that. Have them help you come up with new solutions or evaluate different options.
Find An Easy Win
When it feels like we're in a never-ending cycle of "s**t hitting the fan" moments, it can be really hard to break the cycle of negativity and start thinking about what's next. In that situation, one of the best actions to take is what we call "the easy win" – find something that's guaranteed to make you feel a little better and have a sense of accomplishment (even if it's small).
Some examples might include:
- Calling on a customer that is always willing to talk to you or buy a little something
- Going out to lunch with friends at your favorite restaurant
- Watching a motivational video on YouTube
- Listening to some inspiring music
- Scheduling coffee with your mentor
- Tackling a project that is fairly easy, but has been back-burnered for too long
- Conquering your inbox
Easy wins are the types of things where you can say, "Well, even if everything else went to hell in a handbasket today, at least I did X – and that made me feel good."
Take Stock of How Everything Else Is Going
It never fails: when life seems to be going well overall, handling unexpected challenges is easier.
When everything seems to be falling apart, though, our capacity to handle obstacles is more limited.
Take a minute and think about the big picture of your life. Ask yourself things like:
- Am I getting to the gym?
- Am I meditating or taking time to quiet my thoughts?
- Am I spending quality time with my family and/or friends?
- Am I showing appreciation for the things and people I have?
- Am I getting away every now and again to relax and recharge?
- Am I finding time to volunteer with organizations I care about, that give me a sense of purpose?
- Am I managing the "little things that become big things," like my finances, so they aren't causing stress?
If you're able to keep all areas of your life operating at top notch, though, you're going to expand your capacity not only for success – but for handling hard stuff, as well.
Life Won't Always Go Perfectly
That's a no-brainer.
But we can do things to respond to the imperfections we run into more effectively. Just like Jennifer did with her last minute transportation cancellation, we can:
- Create space to process the situation and calm our emotions
- Brainstorm possible alternatives, and
- Come up with a new plan (even if it isn't the ideal one)
It's also important to keep in mind:
- How we can leverage our strengths and the strengths of our team to execute more effectively
- Possible "easy wins" we can give ourselves, to boost our mood and feel a small sense of accomplishment
- That our capacity to handle hard stuff is dependent on how well we feel everything else in life is going – and that we need to take care of our "whole selves" in order to effectively deal with challenges
We're going to face struggles and interruptions to our plans. But, as my colleague Wade shared on one of our recent Thrive Today Ascension coaching calls, "It's while steering the ship in times of rough water that true captains are made."