A Blueprint for Dealing with
The Unexpected at Work

See also: Change Management

The difference between a good worker and a great worker can often come down to how you cope with unexpected circumstances.

While some may crumble under the pressure of the unfamiliar, others will thrive and find ways to overcome adversity.

Luckily, dealing with the unexpected in work isn’t something you’re born with: you can practice and get better at it.

Follow this blueprint to effectively handle the unexpected.

Do Nothing

While some crisis situations might require you to act immediately, in most circumstances the better option would be to take a moment or two to make sure you have a composed, considered response.

If the caterer for your meeting later in the day cancels at the last minute your first thought might be to start making sandwiches yourself – give it a second thought though, as this probably won’t seem like such a good idea once you’ve started buttering slices of bread.

Whatever you do, do not panic – people may be less inclined to agree or co-operate with you if you aren’t even in control of yourself, and panic can be contagious.

Stay Optimistic

Remember all those times in your past when a spanner was thrown into the works and yet you managed to overcome the problem? Good – you know you’re capable of dealing with the unforeseen.

But what about all those times when you didn’t react so well and you made mistakes. No problem – you can learn from those mistakes. Whatever way you look at it, you couldn’t be better placed to cope with what’s in front of you.

Here’s another way to think about an unexpected problem: it’s actually an opportunity in disguise. It’s an opportunity for you to show your initiative, to show how you cope under pressure and to show your leadership skills.

Trying to maintain a positive attitude even in the face of adversity will inevitably pay dividends.

No one is so brave that he is not disturbed by something unexpected.

Julius Caeser

Consult Others

While an unexpected event can give you the opportunity to prove how dependable you are in a crisis situation, this doesn’t mean you need to cope by yourself.

In fact, if you ignore the people around you and the skills and knowledge they have, you could just be making life harder for yourself.

Seek help when it makes sense and ask for a second opinion if you’re unsure.

If you feel you are being subject to workplace bullying, remember that is not always obvious and doesn't always happen face-to-face. You should consult local or UK workplace harassment services for further advice about your rights.

Many receive advice, only the wise profit from it.

Harper Lee

A word of warning, however: it’s best not to go blaming people for the problem you find yourself in, which might make it best to avoid certain individuals.

Execute your Plan

You’ve carefully considered what to do, letting reason and logic triumph over emotion and knee-jerk reactions.

You’ve sought advice where necessary, and you’ve gotten feedback on your idea to solve the problem.

Now that you have a clear plan of what you need to do, you can put it into action.

Because you’re handling a live, unexpected situation you should be ready for things to change at any moment. To ensure nothing else goes wrong make sure you actively manage your plan. If you’ve asked other people to do things for you, set a time to pro-actively check up on them.

Focus on the Big Picture

Sometimes a grand plan of action isn’t really needed, and you just need to get on with doing your job in less than ideal circumstances.

In these situations it’s worth remembering that whatever your role in the business, ultimately your job is quite simple: you’re there to help the business make money. You do that by being productive, so if something unexpected stops your usual way of being productive think of what else you can do instead.

For example, if there’s an internet outage in your office you might find that you’re unable to carry out your usual tasks. However, there are plenty of things you can do while the internet is down to boost your productivity. You can start drafting emails you’ve been meaning to send, read those articles you saved for reading later, or even start tidying your desk.

Evaluate What Can be Done to Prevent the Problem in Future

So you’ve successfully weathered the storm and in the end things turned out fine, so you can forget about the problem and get back to normal, right? Wrong.

Evaluate what happened: how the unexpected problem came up in the first place, how you handled it, and how you could have managed it more effectively.

This is also the time to discuss with your colleagues what happened and whether they could have handled anything better. Always begin any conversation by asking for their version of events – you might find that they had as little control over what happened as you.

Accept the Unexpected

Uncertainty is the only certainty there is.

John Allen Paulos.

However routine or habitual your job might seem, there is always the possibility of the unexpected waiting for you around the corner.

There is no way to avoid it, and for some this can be unsettling. But if you can accept that you can’t plan for every eventuality you will actually be more equipped to tackle life’s surprises with confidence.

Conflict Resolution and Mediation

Further Reading from Skills You Need

Conflict Resolution and Mediation

Learn more about how to effectively resolve conflict and mediate personal relationships at home, at work and socially.

Our eBooks are ideal for anyone who wants to learn about or develop their interpersonal skills and are full of easy-to-follow, practical information.

Bonus Tip – Expect the Unexpected

Some people cope well with the unexpected and others seem to actually enjoy it.

Why? Because they expect the unexpected. They know how they’ll manage to get to work if their car breaks down, they back up their computer data in case a virus should wipe everything, and they have a dongle ready for when the internet fails.

No, you can’t prepare for every eventuality, but you can protect yourself against common problems.

About the Author

Shawn Hunt is the owner of Broadband Wherever. Working with technology on a daily basis has taught him the importance of being able to deal effectively with the unexpected.