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How to deal with disappointment in business

Running a business can be fun and exciting. It can also be full of disappointment. Losing a customer, failing to win a pitch, a key employee leaving - these things can all set you back. We spoke to Professor Sir Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology at Manchester Business School, about how to deal with disappointment in business.

Running a small business can sometimes seem loaded with disappointment. Maybe you spent months preparing for a new product launch which didn’t go well. Perhaps a big customer you were close to signing took their business elsewhere. Maybe a key employee handed in their notice.

Prof Cooper says these things happen in business all of the time. The good news is that he believes owners of small businesses are usually quite resilient to disappointment or they can learn how to be.

“The psychological trait you need is to assume that things are not going to go well. When you form your own company, things will go wrong - key staff will leave, you will lose customers, you will think you have got a contract and you won’t get it - those types of things happen all the time. Don’t have expectations that everything is going to be rosy just because you have a good product or service. You have to understand that there will be ups and big downs from time to time,” he says.

The key thing is to take action in the face of disappointment. “Take control of the situation. Whatever it is, do something about it, don’t just sit like a rabbit in the headlights. If you lost a customer, go after another one, if you lost a key member of staff, advertise.”

Professor Cooper says business owners also need to be good at “self talk” where they put their disappointment into perspective and contextualise it. “Say, okay, I have lost that client or a key member of staff but am I healthy. This is not as serious as somebody in my family being ill. Is it something I can deal with? Of course it is.”

In effect, business owners need to put a line under their disappointment and move on. “Successful entrepreneurs are successful because they have what I call the bounce back factor,” says Professor Cooper.

While you may be tempted to keep a disappointment to yourself, finding someone to confide in can also be helpful. That person may be able to help put your disappointment into perspective for you.

For many SME owner-managers, the biggest problem is that they are immersed in the business all of the time, which can make it hard to shake off disappointing events. “If you are living and breathing work seven days a week then disappointments are going to go out of proportion. Leave work two or three times a week at a reasonable time to go and be with your kids, partner, friends. Make time for the social things because this puts into context the things that go on in work that really you have to overcome in a business,” Professor Copper adds.

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