When It All Hits the Fan: Dealing with Adversity in the Workplace


We are all human and sooner or later, we are all bound to make a mistake. This is true for business as much as it is for life. Sometimes, these mistakes are small and inconsequential. At other times, they require some damage control and cleanup. And on the very rare occasion, true catastrophe strikes. Whether we’re trying to figure out how we missed our sales goals, why we didn’t deliver a project on time, or how to ease a client with legitimate pain-points, there are a five keys to getting through the shock of the mess or the temptation to place blame for the whole ordeal – neither of which are productive.

Acknowledge the Situation

The first key is to Acknowledge the Situation. In the 5 Stages of Loss and Grief, Acceptance is the final stage, following Denial, Anger, Bargaining, and Depression. In business, we tend to first want to deny our own responsibility and blame someone else. But throwing our coworker under the bus doesn’t do anything to actually fix the problem and blaming an employee is a sure fire way to get egg on our own face. Instead, acknowledge the problem for what it is. Determine any break downs, failures, or root causes without needing to assign blame. Call a spade a spade and tell it like it is. It may not be pretty and it certainly won’t be easy, but people will appreciate the honesty.

Take Control

After Acknowledging the Situation, Take Control of it. Whether we are personally culpable or could have done anything to prevent the situation, we are in the unique position of being able to do something, right now. Determine what actions need to be taken to right the ship and set us back on the correct course.


It is said that 90% of failure is a failure to execute an otherwise effect plan. Only 10% is caused by an ineffective plan or no plan at all. After we Acknowledge the Situation and Take Control, we have to actually do something; we have to Execute the plan.

Learn from It

Once we have actually solved the problem, it is worth while to examine the root causes and adjust our systems to prevent similar failures and shortcomings in the future. Perhaps we need more frequent followup on the progress of a project or better communication with our supply lines to ensure materials and products are available. Whatever it is, learn for the situation and make sure that the same organizational weaknesses do not cause future problems.

Move On

Finally, Move On. There is no point in dwelling on failures or problems. If it was really bad, some day you’ll look back and laugh at the mess that was and how you fixed it. But dwelling on it wastes energy and resources and is simply not productive.

These simple steps allow us to effectively and efficiently address problems as they arise without engaging emotion, freeing up time and resources to pursue our objective and be productive.

For more reading on how to overcome adversity in the workplace, check out The Oz Principle, by Roger Conners.