"Expect the milk to spill" is a concept originated by child development experts. The premise is that when first learning to feed themselves, toddlers are extremely messy; food and drink will be lost, spilled and otherwise distributed in the process. Rather than getting upset about it, parents are encouraged to plan for it, and then take it in stride when it does occur. It's a strategy that reduces stress and frustration in families around the globe, but also has terrific applications in the business world.

In business, and in life, "stuff" happens. Mistakes are made. Deadlines are missed. Promises are broken. How you respond to these unfortunate events can determine their scale and impact. Here are tips for what you can do to keep mishaps from becoming disasters:

Assess the Risk
It doesn't take long to determine behavior patterns in people, be they customers, peers or supervisors. Some folks are known for missing deadlines; others may be prone to exaggerate outcomes or over-commit to turnaround time. Leverage your insight to prepare for and, when possible, prevent complications. Allow for reasonable deadline extensions. Be attentive with additional follow-up and reminders for individuals who need it. Request confirmation of agreed upon deadlines. For customers, be sure to define their role in a successful outcome. And always, always reinforce desired behavior!

Assess the Customer
Explore to understand, and then account for, each customer's individual expectations and sensitivity to changes or problems. For the most sensitive customers, more communication is key. Nobody likes to deliver bad news, particularly to someone who is likely to get upset, but delaying your communication will only inflame the situation. The lower a customer's tolerance for hiccups, the more frequently you should be communicating.

Keep a Healthy Perspective
Do you often find yourself getting annoyed and upset when things don't go as planned? This could be an indication that you need to recalibrate your perspective and your expectations. View minor complications as a normal aspect of business and their solution as a key function of your job. The right mindset regarding mishaps will not only reduce your stress level and boost your professionalism, but it will also provide a better experience for your customer.

As with virtually every aspect of our professional lives, effective communication plays a central role in preventing or resolving problems, whether we are exploring to understand our customers or internal team and relevant processes, sharing expectations for and with all parties, communicating updates or reinforcing desired behaviors.