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For Business
March 31, 2014

How to recover from work setbacks

The key to how you answer this question is how resilient you are.

Resilience is another kind of agility – it’s the speed with which you can adapt to a setback, and return to your normal level of productivity.

Resilience isn’t an inborn trait – it’s a skill you can learn. A few small cognitive adjustments can transform a setback into an opportunity, and a major dip in motivation into a drive to do better.

There are five steps to getting over a setback:

  1. Acknowledge that something’s gone wrong, without beating yourself up about it.
  2. Think about what the real consequences are (and not what you fear they might be).
  3. Decide what you’re going to do about it.
  4. Recognise how it’s making you feel.
  5. Take action.

For example, let’s imagine that you realise you’re not going to be able to meet a big deadline.

First, you need to actually be honest that something’s gone wrong. There’s no point trying to ignore it – you’ll just end up getting into an even bigger mess. There’s no point beating yourself up about it either.

Next, separate your fears about what might happen (‘I’m going to get yelled at’ or ‘my colleagues will think I’m unreliable’) from what has actually happened (you’ve realised that you’re running behind schedule).

Then focus on what you know, and what you can do to set things right, for example letting stakeholders know that there will be a delay, working out how you can speed up your progress, and then actually getting started. The worst thing about a setback is that if you aren’t careful, it can stun you into immobility.

Take a moment to be mindful of your own wellbeing. Are you suddenly nervous or upset? Any intrusive thoughts will distract you and negatively affect your performance, so if you think you need to take a break to calm down, do it. Take a few minutes to go for a walk, or talk to a colleague about an unrelated matter, until you feel calm again.

Finally, put your plan into action. It’s likely that you’ll find that you feel more positive as soon as you take action.

None of us look forward to obstacles, but it is important to be prepared for them, so that we aren’t left powerless when things don’t go according to plan. With the flexibly of agility and the robustness of resilience, you should have everything you need to deal with any eventuality.

In our next post we’ll look at how whole businesses can be more resilient. In the meantime, what are your tips for and stories about recovering from setbacks at work?

Download our free ebook – Growing Agility – for more ideas about resilience.

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