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Lessons From The Rear-View Mirror

In our latest noodle podcast (#21), we discuss disappointment in the workplace and what it teaches us about ourselves and others…

Toe-curling shame and guilt

“I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed.” The words every child dreads hearing from the lips of their parents. Or one of their teachers. We’ve all experienced the sinking feeling in the stomach which follows. The sadness and despair that comes with the realisation that we have let ourselves down, and belittled ourselves in the eyes of others. It’s a truly horrible feeling, especially when you are still only a child, feeling that hot swell of toe-curling shame and guilt.

Find the positive

But these are words which can be spoken in the workplace too. Imagine that you are the person having to tell a colleague of your disappointment in them. What is the best way to do this? One approach would be to avoid actually using the word ‘disappointed’. To reframe it in some way. To maybe tell your colleague that the work they have produced is not quite what you had hoped for.

The important thing to remember is to try not to come across as being too judgemental. To let them know that your disappointment in them is related to a specific incident or piece of work, rather than in them as a person. Try to find the positive. If something didn’t work, why not? How can things be changed so that the result will be better next time? What can be learnt from the experience, and how can the gap be bridged between what was expected, and what was produced?

The ‘pie-chart’ of responsibility

Here at noodle, we recommend a book entitled ‘Thanks For The Feedback’, by Douglas Stone and Helen Sheen. This explores ways to look at such situations a little differently, encouraging the manager not to play the blame game and to think about their own contribution. Would things have turned out better if they had been more available to help if needed? Did they say something in anger, in the heat of the moment, which could have had a negative effect on the outcome, or the work produced?

Think of it as a sort of ‘pie-chart’ of responsibility. Yes, the person whose work wasn’t up to scratch, who disappointed you, will certainly have been largely at fault. But were there any other factors at play? If so, what were they? What about your own role as a manager?

Perceptual positions and retaining perspective

So, whether you are the disappointed or the ‘disappointee’, it’s worth bearing in mind that there are always external, as well as internal factors. Sometimes things are not quite as straightforward as they seem.

And yet, sometimes they are. There will be times when somebody may have been over-promoted or isn’t quite as able as they claimed, or is simply not up to the task at hand. In dealing with this kind of situation it’s important to consider the perceptual positions and retain a sense of perspective. From your perspective, they weren’t up to the job, but from theirs, maybe they felt that they had been thrown in the deep end. Could you have communicated your needs better at the start of the project, and thus avoided this difficult situation entirely?

Are we back in a scenario again where the manager and colleague are both a little at fault? Was the job/project more difficult than it was made out to be? Was the person who had to do the work a little less able than they claimed? We examine this kind of situation in more depth in our From White Lies to Whoppers blog and Episode 19 of our podcast Noodle and the Story of the Accidental Manager.

The pit of despair

But it can work the other way around too. Imagine a situation where you have been interviewed for a promotion which you had been led to believe was yours and that the interview process was a formality, dotting of the i’s and a crossing of the t’s. And then you didn’t get the job after all. The disappointment is unbearable. How can you return to your previous role after having told your colleagues that the promotion was yours? You sink into the pit of despair. All you feel is shame and embarrassment. What can you do?

The nudge you need?

You leave the ‘self-pity party’ and pick yourself up. Perhaps the disappointment you have experienced is just the nudge you need to be brave and take the risk involved in moving on. Because sometimes we need a little push to force us to take that risk. And, looking back in the rear-view mirror a couple of years down the line, you may wonder why it took you so long. The disappointment which forced you to make a big decision may well have opened up opportunities which might otherwise have passed you by.

In life more generally, but particularly in the workplace, we are often tacitly encouraged to suppress emotions such as disappointment, anger and frustration. But there is information in these emotions. They show that you care, that you want something. Maybe you need to look beyond your current role, or workplace, in your search for fulfilment. To take the next step, no matter how scary or risky it may be.

Life as a movie

Another noodle favourite whom we like to quote is Brené Brown, who talks about unexpressed emotions, likening your life to a movie in which others have parts to play. Sometimes they let you down, or you let them down. But maybe they’re in their own movie, and it’s different to yours. So does the answer lie in communicating better, to ensure that everyone is on the same page? And then, perhaps, you might even find that you are actually in the same movie.

An enriching experience

Disappointment is not something which can be avoided. We will all feel it at times. But it can be an enriching experience because it’s what we do with it that counts. Rather than sitting in the pit of despair and engaging in a pity party for one, what happens if we lean into it? What does it tell us? What can we learn? What do we see in the rear-view mirror? Did it stop us from coasting and perhaps nudge us into making a decision which worked out for the best in the long run?

Join the conversation…

Join the conversation at and find out more about embracing disappointment for the lessons we can learn at The Accidental Manager where you'll find the 5-minute noodles Perceptual Positions, Circles of Influence, Learned Optimism and Giving Feedback - all of which help you get the strength to leave the ‘pity party’.

You can also follow us on Instagram @noodle_space for daily snippets of noodle wisdom.

The Story of the Accidental Manager by Noodle Podcast

A lot of important learning tends to happen by accident and this podcast series shares with you the lessons we wish we'd known sooner. Kate and Max explore the good, the bad and the ugly experiences they've had as people managers and consultants as they noodle through what worked and why. This podcast helps you to be the best version of yourself when interacting with individuals and teams, sharing ideas to boost your confidence, have more impact and be more influential.

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