Niko Juranek  | July 30, 2023 min

Adam Grant: 4 Options For Dealing With Unsatisfactory Situations

Standstill & frustration? Four scientifically well-researched courses of action for dealing with unsatisfactory situations by Adam Grant.

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Particularly for ambitious people, stagnation is extremely frustrating - in this article, I therefore present four scientifically well-researched options for dealing with unsatisfactory situations: Draw a line (exit), raise your voice (voice), persist (persistence) and reduce effort (neglect). These options offer different approaches to dealing with challenges in work, relationships or personal projects, with the choice of the right strategy depending on individual circumstances and personal commitment.

How To Deal with Unsatisfactory Situations

Stagnation is frustrating - especially for motivated, ambitious people like you, when you are otherwise used to doing everything as best you can, efficiently and reliably, and yet it all seems to be going nowhere.

This can happen in all kinds of life situations, whether it's a professional career, a relationship or a personal project of the heart.

In the book "Originals" by Adam Grant, I came across four solutions today in the essay "Quitting before Leaving"  [1] on how one can improve such an unsatisfactory situation oneself. [2] According to the economist Albert Hirschmann, there are decades of research showing that one always has a choice, specifically 4 options: He speaks of exit, voice, persistence and neglect. [3]

Option 1: Draw a line (exit).

Exit here means to remove oneself from the situation completely. This means, for example, quitting an oppressive job (cf. the phenomenon of the "Great Resignation" in recent years, [4] ) or leaving the toxic relationship.

Especially in deadlocked situations, this is probably the best option when neither another solution seems possible nor there is a will to continue.

Option 2: Speak up (raise your voice).

Voice means proactively trying to improve the situation yourself:

This could mean talking directly to colleagues or superiors and presenting concrete proposals for solutions; raising an issue in a partnership, suggesting couples therapy; or spreading a message yourself as an ambassador/activist for an issue that is important to you.

This is a good option if the issue is personally very important to you, you are willing to invest energy in it and you see at least a small - even if outwardly it seems almost impossible - chance of success.

Option 3: Be persistent (persistence)

Persistence means gritting your teeth and simply persevering: No matter how demanding the tasks, how impossible the supervisor may be, you develop a thick skin, don't let yourself be distracted, just keep going. You stand by your partner, no matter how confusing the situation may seem. You help to implement a project even if you disagree with the objective, the vision, the culture, the politics - the big, common goal is simply more important than the temporary disagreements / troubles.

Especially in the long run, this approach is often very effective in the outcome, but can feel incredibly tedious along the way - be prepared for that.

Option 4: Reducing the effort (neglect)

Neglect is a very passive approach and means simply reducing the effort you put into something.

This means, for example, reducing one's commitment to work to the minimum necessary without going the extra mile (cf. the trend of "quiet quitting", [5]), finding new activities in order not to see one's partner too often.

It goes without saying that this approach is a way of reducing the symptoms of the problem and somehow living with it, but it neither removes the trigger for this unpleasant situation, nor does it improve the situation in any way. Sometimes this is just a transitional phase to the exit.

This approach is probably only for situations that are of lower priority in daily life; for the important things, one of the upper approaches (proactivity or perseverance) should probably always be chosen.

Which option should I choose to improve the situation?

Grant says in the book that choosing the right option always depends on the circumstances, the possibility/feeling of control, and commitment:

  • Do I believe that the change can be brought about?
  • Do I care enough to try?

Accordingly, one would choose neglect if one believes one has to live with the status quo and there is no commitment, but hairiness if one is willing to try; if one cares but does not believe one can change, one will choose exit. Only if you believe that your actions are significant, that you can make a difference through them, and that you care very much, will you be proactive and raise your voice, do everything you can to make it happen. [6]


So there is no 'one perfect solution' - so depending on the circumstances, one option will be more suitable than another, some may not be suitable at all.

This may not solve the situation at first glance, but it helps to take a breath and remember that there is a solution in every case and that it is up to you to determine the next step.

Sometimes this awareness alone helps you not to feel powerless, but to become more self-confident again, because you can actively decide on an option, and only then will the - often individually best - decision be made.

Question for self-reflection: Is there an option that you have often chosen in the past? Has it helped? If yes, how? If not, what was missing?


  1. Grant, Originals – How Non-Conformists Move The World* (2016), 79.
  2. Rusbult/Farrell/Rogers/Mainous, Impact of Exchange Variables on Exit, Voice, Loyalty, and Neglect: An Integrative Model of Responses to Declining Job Satisfaction, Academy of Management Journal 31 (1988), 599 (601).
  3. Burris/Detert/Chiaburu, Quitting Before Leaving: The Mediating Effects of PsychologicalAttachment and Detachment on Voice, Journal of Applied Psychology 93 (2008), 912 (913).
  4. Article (German) from 06.11.2021 in Der Standard: Bauer, Great Resignation: So wollen sie nicht mehr arbeiten, last reviewed on 09.09.2023.
  5. Artikel (German) from 26.08.2022 in Der Standard: Dang, "Quiet Quitting": Warum Dienst nach Vorschrift jetzt trendet, last reviewed on 09.09.2023.
  6. Grant, Originals – How Non-Conformists Move The World* (2016), 80.

Note: The books marked with * contain affiliate links. This means that I receive a small contribution if you buy the book via my link. You will not incur any additional costs, but you will help me to finance the blog and to be able to write more comprehensive articles. Thank you! - Niko

Mag. Nikolaus Juranek

Nikolaus Juranek is a jurist and certified trainer for communication, rhetorics & leadership. In his articles he deals with how to acquire practice-relevant skills and abilities from a wide range of fields in order to grow in one's job, hobbies and private life.

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