How to Handle a Setback at Work – Try this Damage Limitation Plan
Imagine waking up every morning feeling super-confident and ready for work. You succeed at everything and you’re praised by your boss continuously. Things always work out just as you plan. Nothing ever goes wrong. For you, failure just isn’t an option.
Struggling to imagine that? Me too.
The reality is; life’s not like that. It has its ups and downs for all of us. We all experience setbacks on occasions; things don’t always go according to plan. The danger comes when you let a setback get the better of you. This can force you onto the slippery slope of negativity and low self-esteem.
A setback at work can be particularly hard to handle. Even a small setback can cause many of us to worry and feel stressed, as well as suffer a dip in self-confidence.
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So when you experience a setback at work, it makes sense to deal with it quickly to prevent negative thinking taking over. So how do you that? Having a strategy will certainly help.
A while ago I was invited to spend a week submerged at sea in one of the Royal Navy’s Nuclear Submarines. It was fascinating. The crew were being tested on how they dealt with emergency procedures. They were being assessed on ‘Damage Control’.
Why is this relevant you might be thinking? What’s it got to do with dealing with a setback at work? Well, I learnt a massive amount from the submarine crew’s reaction to a setback. I’ve used the same principles they activated ever since. These principles work. They will help you too. Use them correctly and you’ll be able to deal positively and confidently with any setback you experience.
Initiating damage control
It could be a failed interview, a work issue, a rejection in a relationship or maybe just a small event that knocked your self-confidence. It’s still a setback for you.
So it’s time to switch to your own damage control mode. There are 4 Steps you’ll need to take. Be sure not to move to the next step before you’ve completed the previous one.
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Step 1: Stay Calm
Your instinctive reaction may well be to panic. Panicking will get you nowhere. In fact it will only make things worse. If the setback has just happened, breathe deeply. Calm down. Refocus.
Don’t try to address the issue until you are fully in control of your emotions and your ability to think clearly. On the submarine there was never any panic, even when the situation seemed dire; we were submerged, the control room was full of smoke, communications were down and to make things even more difficult, we were wearing breathing apparatus.
Still, everyone remained calm. There was no panic.
Remember; you’ll never be able to make any rational decisions if you’re in a panic. So give yourself some time to regroup and assess the situation.
Step 2: Be rational
Don’t lay blame; take personal responsibility. Thinking rationally starts with accepting what’s happened. It may seem like the world is caving in around you but 99% of the time it isn’t. So try to get the setback in proportion. Don’t fall into the trap of building it up to be something it’s not.
Replace your emotion with rational reflection. Be objective. Think logically. If you’re feeling embarrassed about what’s happened, try to set this aside so it doesn’t affect your thought processes.
Ask yourself: What are the implications in reality?
You’re likely to find that the implications aren’t anything like as bad as you thought. There might even be positives that you can gain from the setback. Have the self-discipline to force yourself to explore this possibility. What can you learn from it (to stop it happening again)?
Thinking like this helps you to train your brain to come to terms with the setback. This will also help to stop negative thinking taking over.
Step 3: Drill down
The word ‘crisis’ originates from the Greek language; it means ‘a moment to decide.’ This didn’t come about by accident.
So, let’s say you failed an interview. To stop it happening again, you need to work out why. Take some time to reflect in detail on the experience. Be as specific as you can; it’s not enough to just think ‘I didn’t come across very well’ or ‘the interviewer didn’t look interested’.
You need to get to the bottom of “WHY” you didn’t you come across well and “WHY” the interviewer didn’t seem interested. If you can find the answers to these questions you’ve got something tangible you can act on to stop it happening again.
Then decide what you actually need to do to address the situation. Is there any immediate fall-out from the failure? If so, do you need to act quickly or do you have time on your side?
Now write down your plan of action. This gives you clarity. A recorded plan is more likely to happen than an imagined one.
Step 4: Action
Stop yourself having knee-jerk reactions. Unless it’s an emergency, making a quick, ill-considered decision can be fraught with danger.
In most cases, you won’t need to act immediately (even though your heart may say you should) so take stock. Slow down. Be measured in everything you do.
Step 3 helped you establish what caused the setback. So you know what to work on. You can apply these lessons the next time you’re faced with the challenge. This leaves you in a much stronger position.
But don’t get complacent. Don’t just wait for the next challenge to come along so you can activate damage control. Proactively seek out opportunities to improve. Take the initiative. Submariners create opportunities to practise damage control. You should too.
There’s nothing stopping you starting this process right now. Be super-conscious of what you’ll do the next time you experience a setback.
‘Forewarned is forearmed’ – This old English Proverb has never been more true. Keep it simple. Take one step at a time – Stay calm, be rational, drill down, act.
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