Bad day at work? How to deal with adversity…


You will deal with adversity.

Some days things just aren’t going to go your way. The day that you come in and find out:

  • You’ve lost a long term client or
  • You missed out on a deal that you were sure you were going to land or
  • A good employee unexpectedly turns in their resignation – leaving you with a big hole to fill or
  • You get sick or injured in some way…

Those are all bad days – but it doesn’t have to be just big stuff that will throw you off. Sometimes it’s the little things: You hit all the red lights coming into work (and run late for a meeting), you forget your phone, your favorite restaurant closes down, you miss a flight or a connection when you’re travelling, you completely forget a meeting. None of these are big deals by themselves – but add a couple of them together and you’re going to have a bad day.

You can’t always control what’s happening to  you – sometimes bad things happen, no matter how prepared you are.

The question is – now that you’ve gotten slapped down by life…how do you respond to that adversity?

The real question – how do you deal with it?

Here’s the thing – whatever your challenge might be…big or small, you get to choose how you’re going to respond.

It seems like a small thing – barely worth considering, but the reality is that your choice, that space between stimulus and response means everything.

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”    – Viktor Frankl

If you’re not familiar with Viktor Frankl here’s a quick background: He was a neurologist and psychologist who was also a holocaust survivor and much of his life’s work comes from what he learned during his horrific experiences in the concentration camps. The idea that the last freedom any of us possess is the ability to choose how we respond to situations. Of course he was dealing with far worse things than most of us can even imagine – but the concept still works for lesser challenges.

You have 2 Choices when you respond to adversity

1. You can dwell on the negative, on your bad luck or the unfortunate outcome. (victim)


2. You can choose to learn from the experience and get better. (leader)

It’s all pretty simple (in theory) – Option #1 – choosing to dwell on the negative clearly doesn’t have any value. There’s no upside to wallowing in your bad luck or complaining or being a victim to circumstances. Nothing good is going to come out of that approach.

But if you choose to learn from the experience and get better, then all sorts of good things are possible, even when they’re started with a bad event.  You could learn about a blind spot that’s been holding you back, or at least get a wake up call that something needs to change.

Or maybe you won’t learn anything new or useful…but by letting the bad event go, you can move on and get back to doing something useful.

It’s clear that focusing on the positive side of things is your best bet.

Unfortunately it’s not that easy.

When you’re having a bad day, when you get bad news, the first thing that naturally kicks in are your emotions. You’re going to get mad, angry, upset, frustrated or sad (or all of the above) and any one of those emotions will keep you from thinking logically – and tend to drive you to option #1…dwelling on the negative.

How do you exercise your choice?

It can be challenging to respond in a positive way – here are some things that will help you take the time to choose your response:

1. Remember that you have a choice

Simply recognizing the concept of    Stimulus  >  Choice  > Response    (vs. just Stimulus > Response) will help you take that deep breath and hit the pause button long enough for you to make a better, less emotional response.

2. Cultivate a generally positive outlook

Every day, whether you’re dealing with adversity or not, it will help you immensely to look at the positive possibilities rather than focusing on the negative. That doesn’t mean you need to be some kind of Pollyanna who can never see anything wrong with a situation. Too much optimism isn’t healthy either, but you can try to be cautiously optimistic…start actively looking for good news rather than assuming bad news.

3. Adopt a habit of doing an After Action Review

Originally conceived as a very formal process by the US Army and later adopted by most of the corporate world in less structured formats, the idea of an After Action Review is to evaluate the outcomes of whatever initiatives you might have completed. If you made a big pitch to a client and they rejected it (or accepted it) take the time as a team and talk about what went right and what went wrong. What can you learn from the situation…and then make sure to apply those lessons going forward.

Bad days, bad events, bad stuff are going to happen to you (and to everyone for that matter). What really sets apart the most successful people from everyone else is how they respond to adversity. They choose a positive path and try to learn and get better every single day.

How do you respond to challenges? Do you find yourself complaining…or does it drive you to learn from it and do something about it?

We’d love to hear your thoughts on this, let us know what you’re thinking in the comments below.

Shawn Kinkade   Kansas City Business Coach