Handling Surprises: How to Navigate The Unexpected

By Hadley Roy H

In many areas of life, the springtime has often brought about big changes and new initiatives. But adapting to change can be a challenge, especially if that change comes as a surprise. Whether you are experiencing a corporate structure reorganization or shifting policies from vendors, it is likely that this spring is bringing some unexpected element into your work life. 

So here’s a quick guide – informed by the experts – on how to navigate the unexpected.



First things first, in the acclaimed words of Douglas Adams, “Don’t panic”. 

When faced with the unexpected, it is natural to fall into a state of chaotic anxiety. But the most productive thing you can do when dealing with a big and unexpected situation is, as Harvard Business Review puts it, to “stop the boat.” You cannot adapt if you are still moving. So take a pause and evaluate the situation. 

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Psychology Today emphasizes that it is critical to remember that unexpected does not mean bad. In fact, even things you do not want or prefer are not necessarily bad or destructive in and of themselves. Psychology Today also points out that regardless of the shock factor, things are likely to work out okay in the end. So while you’ve taken a pause be sure to focus on the positive and, as Harvard Business Review recommends: evaluate only realistic options. 

Wishing that things could be different or bargaining with the situation do not actually help you find a new path forward, so skip those counterproductive steps and focus on realistic options instead. This could include concrete evaluation. Fast Company recommends checking how the news will impact workload and what tradeoffs need to be made in light of the unexpected event. This could also include introspective components, like how different reasonable options feel on a gut level. 


Once you have evaluated your options and settled on a path forward Harvard Business Review focuses on the importance of making a decision and committing to it. You may not have the most ideal path forward, but a plan is better than no plan, and sticking to your choice is sure to help you navigate the uncharted waters ahead. 


Imagine a corporate reorganization has given you a new focus market that will change your work hours and force you to work outside your comfort zone – perhaps even working with a client in a different country and culture. 

Rather than jumping in without considering the implications of the change or using up valuable time simply being upset, fix your attention on the options truly available to you: 

  • Adapt to the new role or find a different job. 
  • Look at the consequences and nuances of those options. Maybe your finances cannot handle a change in job right now or, alternatively, maybe your family life is not amicable to the new schedule. 
  • Then once you have made your choice, move forward boldly, knowing that everyone goes through hard things, and that you have the power to navigate through the unexpected as long as you stop, think, then act. 

x Hadley Roy H. is an Analytics Manager at Campbell Ewald, where she specializes in user experience optimization and creative analytics. She also runs @Just_Had_Tea on Instagram. Hadley lives with her husband, their 13 houseplants, and two sourdough starters in Southeast Michigan. 

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