How To Deal With Adversity at Work

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published April 13, 2021

When facing adversity in the workplace, having the skills to overcome obstacles can be essential. Understanding how to handle adversity can help you prevent problems, learn from mistakes and handle challenges in a professional and unbiased manner. In this article, we explore why dealing with adversity is important, outline the different adversity types and provide six steps for conquering challenges in the workplace.

Related: Conflict Resolution Skills: Definition and Examples

Why is dealing with adversity important?

Adversity can create a substantial obstacle in the workplace. Since it can affect relationships between managers and employees, coworkers and their teams and even the business and its customers, effectively facing challenges at work can be essential for ensuring a company operates smoothly. Handling adversity can also help you understand how to prevent future conflict before it arises. Other benefits of overcoming obstacles at work include:

  • Enhanced satisfaction

  • Stronger relationships among coworkers

  • Less stress

  • Improved mental health

  • Boosted productivity

  • Increased culture of trust

  • More confidence when problems arise in the future

Related: Dealing With Interpersonal Conflict at Work

Types of adversity you may deal with at work

In the workplace, you may encounter a wide range of challenges, including:

  • Physical obstacles, such as office arrangements or roadblocks

  • Mental challenges, such as adapting to working with unique personality types

  • Emotional adversity, such as handling criticism and other kinds of feedback

  • Social challenges, such as building and maintaining relationships

  • Financial adversity, such as accounting errors or budget restrictions

How to excel when dealing with adversity at work

Next time you encounter adversity in the workplace, you can follow these steps to approach the situation professionally and overcome the obstacle:

1. Prepare for multiple outcomes

When you take a significant action at work, such as submitting an important report or making a large purchasing decision, you can prepare for adversity by asking yourself the following questions:

  • What is the result I want the most?

  • What are some suitable alternative outcomes?

  • What are some neutral outcomes?

  • Are there any obstacles that might change an outcome from positive to negative?

  • What would I do if [X] happened?

After answering these questions, you can create a plan of action for the best and worst-case scenarios, which can help you approach adversity calmly and objectively.

2. Build a support network

To encourage teamwork and cooperation in challenging situations, you can develop a support network in the workplace. Depending on the type of environment you work in, it may be a formal or informal group. For example, managers might encourage employees to form social groups, which can deepen relationships and grow trust essential for overcoming obstacles. Or leaders may create dedicated task forces for dealing with specific types of obstacles. Either way, employees committed to helping each other in challenging conditions can build a support network by:

  • Establishing a mission

  • Checking in regularly

  • Offering each other help often

  • Sharing useful resources

  • Admitting to mistakes

  • Maintaining a positive attitude

Related: 30 Team-Building Ideas for the Workplace

3. Follow models

To help you conquer adversity at work, consider using previous challenges as examples for how to solve a current problem. To get started, you can ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I know anyone who has overcome similar obstacles?

  • How did the team overcome adversity when [X] happened?

  • What steps did they take, and how can we adapt those steps to current conditions?

4. Change your mindset

When you tell someone about a challenging situation, the story you share can affect how you think about what's happening. By shifting the words you choose to focus on the positive, you can hold a more objective perspective and help your coworkers feel empowered to take action to overcome adversity in the workplace. Consider the following examples of ways to alter the narrative of a situation at work:

  • While we didn't choose this outcome, we can decide how it affects us.

  • Let's talk about what we can gain from this situation.

  • While it isn't what we expected, now we can [take a particular action].

  • I'd like to take responsibility for [a specific aspect of the challenge].

  • Let's discuss what makes this challenging and then decide what to do next.

  • This isn't the outcome we wanted, so let's talk about what we can do differently next time.

5. Emphasize what you can learn

Rather than focusing on how adversity at work makes you feel, you can use it as an opportunity for growth by determining why your expectations differed from the results. To help you learn from a challenge at work, consider asking yourself:

  • What did I expect to happen, and how are the results different?

  • What are elements I can control about this situation, and how can I alter them?

  • Based on what I know now, what can I do next time to improve the outcome?

Related: 6 Important Workplace Adaptability Skills

6. Build confidence

Handling adversity at work is an excellent opportunity to develop confidence in your problem-solving capabilities. By focusing on positive results and decision-making to overcome an obstacle, you can also influence your coworkers to take action. Consider the following to help boost your confidence during challenging situations at work:

  • How the challenge can benefit you

  • What value the obstacle can bring to your team

  • What kinds of opportunities the challenge makes available

  • How non-ideal conditions can help improve future projects

Related: 10 Ways To Boost Your Confidence in the Workplace

Skills to deal with adversity

To overcome challenging situations in the workplace, you can consider developing the following soft skills:

  • A sense of humor: If you're able to laugh at a problem, you may be capable of looking at it objectively, which can help you learn from it, maintain a positive attitude and create solutions. One way you can boost your sense of humor is by investing in friendships in and out of the workplace.

  • Critical thinking: A set of critical thinking skills can help you approach adversity logically, which can help you and your team overcome obstacles. You can develop your critical thinking skills by enrolling in online courses, attending specialized workshops and going to professional conferences.

  • Communication: Being able to discuss adverse conditions professionally is essential for overcoming challenges in the workplace. You can improve your communication skills by focusing on one topic in a conversation, being aware of your coworkers' body language and using constructive language.

  • Patience: By approaching challenges at work with patience, you can avoid making additional mistakes during the problem-solving process. You can develop patience through meditation, mindfulness exercises and specialized professional development programs.

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