5 Tips to Recover from a Setback

We all know that feeling. Sinking gut, hot face, sweaty palms, slightly nauseous; the weight of guilt and disappointment sitting on our shoulders. From a five year old who broke a family heirloom (I’m still sorry about that vase, mom!) to a project manager who just reported a project status ‘Red’, the feeling is universal.

Setbacks and failures, though painful and embarrassing, are a part of life and often a part of work. I’ve never met a successful person who couldn’t identify a time they’ve failed.

It’s interesting to hear a job candidate answer the almost stereotypical interview question, “Tell me about a time you failed.” Being able to recognize failure and move forward make us better, teaching us to continuously reflect and refine. Personally, I wouldn’t want to work with someone who has never made a mistake or, even worse, couldn’t recognize when they messed up.

The way we define failure, defines us. In the moment, it’s tough to see how a failure can be viewed as a positive. But with time comes clarity and, if we re-frame failure to be viewed at as a learning experience, it’s not for waste.

Since it’s not a matter of if failure occurs, but when, here are five tips for recovering from a setback at work.

1) Recognize and own up to the part you played

Successful people don’t sit around blaming others. They analyze the situation, realize the part they played, and make a conscious change moving forward. More importantly, they own up to their mistakes. It is incredible how quickly a project can recover and move forward when the energy is focused on correcting, not blaming.

2) Define (or redefine) success

Lack of communication is a top contributor of project failure and is something almost every company I’ve worked alongside has struggled with. It’s important to have consistent checkpoints with the team and stakeholders and, if needed, for the team to regroup and redefine success by bringing everyone together on the same page and resetting expectations. When in doubt, over communicate.

3) Bounce back

It’s easy to dwell on failure and bring negativity into work every day. Keep in mind that people have short memories and that a setback doesn’t have to define you or your work quality. Many years I have watched the Broncos fail, but the 2015-2016 season was glorious. All season long, Denverites were rejoicing win after win, not remembering the disasters of seasons past (or worrying about season’s future). So, shake it off and bring your A-game to work, it’s contagious.

4) Take it as a lesson learned

Analyze the setback. Did the setback occur because you were in over your heads?  Were your resources over allocated by other organizational priorities? Or, did the setback occur because of something you did unknowingly? Now you know. Reflect on these experiences and keep them in mind for future projects. It will make you better next time.

5) Manage yourself

The most important thing to do when experiencing a setback is to manage yourself and your feelings. Obsessing can quickly turn toxic so take time to process the experience, acknowledge that it’s temporary, and then work to re-frame the experience as a learning experience. Dwelling on a failure will not undo it.

About the Author

Erin Sobon, a Senior Consult in our Digital Transformation practice, brings 10 years of consulting experience to Statêra. While not managing projects or analyzing data, Erin can be found in the Colorado wilderness, exploring new destinations, or eating her way through Denver’s food scene.