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Career Coach: Dealing with setbacks at work

By Joyce E.A. Russell,

“The greatest accomplishment is not in never falling, but in rising again after you fall.”

— Vince Lombardi

We’ve all had to deal with setbacks at work. What differentiates us is how we deal with them.

Maybe we were passed over for the promotion we wanted, lost an important client, found our business is not taking off as quickly as we’d like or had to deal with a computer crash that lost the last five years of work. Setbacks can seem to block our progress forward.

While understanding your feelings is important, you can’t spend an enormous amount of time dwelling on them. Being sad or upset is one thing; being stuck in denial or spending years whining is another.

Here are some ways to bounce back quickly:

·First, give yourself some time to deal with your feelings. It’s natural to be upset, angry or sad when experiencing a setback.

·Accept the fact that there will be setbacks, challenges and obstacles. Expect them. Your major goals can withstand setbacks from time to time. Tell yourself that the setback is just temporary and that the future is brighter ahead. Your positive perspective really does make a difference.

·Anticipate obstacles and try to have a contingency plan for them. If you prepare for them, you are viewing them as opportunities for growth rather than failures.

·Once you experience a setback, try to objectively look at it. Assess the situation to learn from it. Write down why you think the setback occurred and what you expected to happen.

·Ask for help from trusted friends, colleagues or others for their take on the situation. Often, outsiders give a fresh perspective.

·Get a mentor and a coach. A mentor in your line of work who has been successful has probably had to deal with some of the challenges you will face. He or she will be credible and understand what business-related issues you will face. In addition, find a coach who is outside of your area of work, one who can share how other business leaders have responded.

·Based on feedback from others and your own views, identify what steps you can take to overcome the setback.

·If you are a leader in a firm or the owner of a business, keep a positive outlook. Employees look to the leader when they form their views. If you look anxious and depressed, chances are they will look the same. This doesn’t mean you should fake your smile — there may be things you can share with them, but you still have to project hope for the future. Otherwise, why should they stay? You have to keep staff morale high. One executive I coached realized he was going to have to lay off some people in his firm. He was severely depressed about this because he knew the employees really well and felt as if they were family. He would hide out in his office, apprehensive about meeting with anyone. We talked about how important it was that he get out there and communicate with workers and be available to hear their views. He also needed to project optimism about the future of the firm. They let him know that they appreciated his being available to talk with and that they needed to see his message of hope for the firm.

·Maintain your emotional cool at work. Be calm and confident. While you may be stressed, frustrated, angry or sad, you really need to keep these feelings in check while at work. Take deep breaths, take a short walk or do something else to get out of the situation.

·Pull out your sense of humor. Laughter really does help to ease tension and it keeps everyone from dwelling on the negative.

·Get away from the issue, even for a short time, through exercise, a drive, doing something pleasant, to put it in perspective. You’ll come back to the problem with a fresh view.

·Be persistent. Setbacks may force us to take detours, but at least we are still moving forward. We just have to remember to see it that way — that we can still move forward.

Joyce E.A. Russell is the director of the Executive Coaching and Leadership Development Program at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. She is a licensed industrial and organizational psychologist and has more than 25 years of experience coaching executives and consulting on leadership and career management. She can be reached at jrussell@rhsmith.umd.edu.

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