Feeling Disappointed, Gracefully

I’m betting you have – at some point – experienced absolutely incredible, top-quality, 5-star customer service. You know what I’m talking about – when someone goes the extra mile and a half to make your day. And here’s the thing – after you’ve experienced it, and it’s not there, you notice! You miss it. Your expectations of a certain standard were up there. Then, when they’re not met, it’s disappointing.

I work with a client who experienced this exact problem on a wider scale. He is an incredibly powerful leader and he has very high standards. He is very smart – almost always right – and runs a very successful organization. As you can imagine, the expectations he has of his team are massive. Those high standards are in the rest of his life as well.

So…when those standards were not met (which was often – because they were so high) he was feeling disappointed. The charismatic leader was transformed! He became an angry mess. A coffee order done wrong was a big deal. A delivery that was running late was a slight. A less-than-amazing business quarter was catastrophic.

Sound familiar?

Good leaders have high standards. They usually come from an all-important concept related to running a successful business. That concept is that companies who provide a service or a product are basically doing a “job” for a customer (so they don’t have to do it themselves). The best companies do an amazing job of providing that service. A great leader pushes their people to hit that mark – but because that mark is usually really high – they also find themselves constantly disappointed.

It’s that disappointment that can lead to problems – that can show up at both home and at work. An angry response to disappointment can potentially upset the people that are helping you. An angry response can create stress for you personally – it steals your mental energy from the things that actually matter. An angry response also hurts your chances of hitting your quarterly goals, instead of moving you toward them.

Another way people sometimes deal with disappointment is to avoid it. Instead of saying something, a leader will sometimes say nothing at all. This is just as dangerous. Instead of the emotional response, there is no response, meaning the team member doesn’t even really know that a standard hasn’t been met.

So how can you – a motivated and exacting leader – maintain high standards without hurting people or your business? How can you stop yourself from reacting off-the-cuff at key moments? How can you get them to perform as you want them to?

The answer – feeling disappointed, gracefully

What is graceful disappointment? Firstly – it’s NOT about lowering your standards. Instead it’s about expressing disappointment in a different way. A) in a way that conveys that expectations were not met – but also B) in a way that motivates and encourages people.

What does that look like?

Method 1 – Change the View

The first thing I recommended to my client was simple. I asked him to change the view he had of the person he was dealing with:

  • Consider that the person is doing the best they can with the resources they have.

Perhaps they are in the wrong role for their personality. Perhaps they had poor training. The chances are – there is a reason for their mishap. That mishap is not the result of them being a BAD person – just the circumstances. This will help to cultivate compassion.

  • Secondly, view them as a peer rather than as a child.

Anyone who is a parent or has parents (that’s all of us) can tell you the way a parent speaks to a child is different to the way they speak to their peers. When we are disappointed, it’s natural to speak to a person as if they are a child – it shows up in our tone of voice. The battle is on! But, if we imagine that person as someone on the very same level as ourselves – we instantly have a greater level of respect for them. Our language is more graceful.

This method is an example of putting the relationship first. Performance is important – of course – but so are relationships. Creating compassion in your approach creates a better relationship with key people.

Method 2 – Push it Back

How else can we develop graceful disappointment skills? Another method I recommend is to simply push back the conversation. You might end up saying something like this:

“You know what, this isn’t right. Let me think about this and we can talk about it tomorrow. Something isn’t right here and we’re going to need to fix this.”

This has two benefits. Firstly, it allows the leader time to calm themselves after the disappointment. That “breathing room” will provide time to strategize. Secondly, it conveys disappointment to the team-member without anger. The simple statement that “something isn’t right” will convey the key point – a standard has not been met.

It’s a great way to be graceful and It’s a GREAT managerial tool.

Method 3 – Explain the Facts

If you prefer to handle things immediately – my client certainly does – consider allowing those undeniable truths to convey your disappointment. It might sound like:

“Okay, I am disappointed here because this was a critical project. We needed X and Y to be perfect so that we could make Z happen. We had a clear agreement that this was going to be done, and I need you to go and figure out how we can fix this.”

This has the benefit of conveying disappointment without emotion. The CEO in this case manages to avoid the lecture and motivate the employee to do better. This approach is all about information – the details are the important part. What exactly was not done? Just express that part.

This will strip away the high levels of emotion. You end up with better judgment and a better chance of progress.

Note: This is Difficult. Very Difficult.

Remember that for all of this, as anxiety or anger goes up, skill goes down. When a leader reacts to a disappointment from an emotional place – they make bad choices. When that anxiety or anger is placed to the side, the CEO is able to make a better decision for the company. Relationships (whether at home or at work) get better and everyone pushes themselves toward their goals.

It’s no mean feat – there’s a reason that monks spend years in the mountains trying to control their emotions. But, it is also the true test of a great leader. If you are able to be gracefully disappointed, your team will work harder and attempt to meet your standards every day of the week. Practice on the small stuff – when food comes out half cooked or your car won’t start after coming back from the mechanic. Then let it work wonders for you when it matters.

Have a great week.