An Entirely New Approach to Dealing with Setbacks

Think about the last time you had a setback.  How did you deal with it? Did you push through and just move on?  Or did you take a moment, reflect and see how that setback could be providing you with information?  Most leaders push through and/or ignore the setback. I’d like to invite you to take a new approach.

Next time you face a setback, take the time to inquire about what may have caused it, what new data you now know and how that can inform you moving forward.  I hold setbacks as necessary to help us course correct and take better action. In fact, I would propose that setbacks are necessary for our success. Here are a few strategies to deal with any setbacks you may be facing in a new way.

When you face a setback, regardless of the issue or people involved, I imagine you handle it a similar way.  This approach can be called your “patterned response” to stressful situations and challenges. This way of responding has most likely been a pattern for many years and is worth exploring.  So, take a moment to reflect:

  1. What is a setback I faced in the past month (pick one that was small to moderate for this exercise)?
  2. What was my initial response to the setback?  What actions did I take (or not take)?
  3. How did I perceive the setback?  As a problem? As an opportunity?  
  4. Was I able to learn from the setback and choose a new course forward or did I get stuck?

By asking these important questions, you’ll be able to uncover your patterned response to setbacks.  You then have more insight and choice about how you respond to the next setback you may face.

I recently worked with a client who was facing a series of setbacks in his new role as a leader in his company.  He was tasked with creating an “innovation culture” yet, at every turn, people seemed unwilling to engage in the conversation - they rescheduled meetings, failed to participate in communication and actively blocked the initiative even though it was in their strategy.  In our call, he said “I have taken all the actions I believe will achieve the goal but at every turn, I am getting resistance from people and I am getting tired of the politics.”

I shared the concept of “patterned response” and we inquired further about what information the setbacks may be revealing.  I encouraged him to make the shift from disappointment to appreciation of the setbacks. When he was able to shift, we explored what the setbacks were indicating about the culture and how people viewed innovation.  We also looked at their appetite for change and growth. Out of this, we uncovered the following:

  • Even though people said they wanted more innovation, they actually had “change fatigue” from a recent organizational restructuring and couldn’t fully support it.
  • While my client created a fantastic program of work, people perceived it as taking up too much of their time and were unable to commit to it.
  • Being a new leader in this situation, my client did not yet have the relationships developed to get the support for this initiative.

His initial patterned response was to go into frustration and complaint (which is where most of us go) but, by looking at the setback as valuable and even necessary, we were able to create a way forward that helped him build the relationships, buy-in and momentum he was looking for to get the results he wanted.  

So, what is your patterned response to setbacks?  How can you take a new approach today and going forward?  The weekly practice below will assist you in looking taking setbacks as an opportunity to learn and grow.  

Weekly Uplevel Practice

This week, when faced with a setback, take a moment to really understand your patterned response to it by asking:

  1. What is my initial reaction to the setback?
  2. What are my beliefs about it?  What am I thinking?
  3. What am I noticing in my body?  Am I contracting or open?
  4. What am I feeling about the setback?  Is it productive or holding me back?

When you become familiar with your response, you have more choice around what you do and how you move forward.  This moves you from disappointment to appreciation and inquiry. Let me know how it goes!