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Onwards and Upwards: Processing Failure in the Professional Setting

How to Move on Quickly and Successfully

We have all experienced failure in our professional lives. And while no one enjoys opening old wounds, it is important to examine our failures so we can learn from them. In the workplace and in life, processing failure is crucial to success. Think about a time when you failed. How did you handle it? Can failure in the professional setting become a success?

Most people prefer to process failure internally. By doing so, they can then move on quickly. Processing fear internally is beneficial because most people don’t wish to cause a scene or seem unprofessional in the workplace. How does one handle fear in the workplace? How does one’s team engage? On a company-wide level, how does a leader engage with the team and superiors in moments of failure?

[Editor’s Note: If you are interested in learning more about leadership roles in business, check out “Business Leadership Basics: Actions Speak Louder Than Intentions.”]

So often, we focus on talking about failure in the moment it happens but rarely do we talk about it after it has occurred. This conversation is an important one on both an individual and a team level.

Think about a time when you failed. How did you handle it? Can failure in the professional setting become a success? Click To Tweet

Processing Failure: Get up and Move On

When processing failure, remember the phrase “get over it, get on with it.” First, forgive yourself for the failure. Secondly, try to learn from the failure. Always remember, to err is most decidedly human. The third step is to move on. Focusing too much energy on mourning the failure can put you in a self-defeating loop.

Seek First to Understand Failure

There are three different types of failures:

  • Preventable failure
  • Complex failure
  • Intelligent failure.

Preventable failure is often the most straightforward; it happens when one doesn’t take into account what one already knows. For example, not saving enough money for a business endeavor.

Complex failure occurs due to a combination of internal and external factors coming together to produce an outcome. These factors may be out of your control.

Finally, intelligent failure tends to be uncharted territory. You may be attempting something for the first time, without outside support.

Understanding the type of failure can help you understand the solution. What could have been done differently? What was within your control and what wasn’t? What adjustments could you make to get you closer to success on the next attempt?

Success Prevails

Failures are the flip-side of success. We often look at what we did correctly so we can replicate it, but, in reality, examining our failures – and the factors affecting them – can often better teach us. And being better educated in your area of expertise often leads to greater success.

[Editor’s Note: Want to build a resilient company with employees that process failure well, too? Listen to our webinar  “Human Resources 101: Advising the Start-up” to get started.]

They say hindsight is 20/20. Let us use that clarity to our advantage. Processing failure will always lead to success. Take some time to look back, examine what happened, and figure out what could and should have been done differently. In many ways, business is no different than life. Once you have an experience, the way in which you react to it is what defines it. Will it be dealt with head-on, or will it be put away and forgotten?

At the most basic level, however, if you continually try to avoid and ignore a failure, you miss an opportunity to learn and grow from it.

You’ll likely find that, just like in life, when further trouble arises, that thing you put in the cupboard is all you can think about. At the most basic level, however, if you continually try to avoid and ignore a failure, you miss an opportunity to learn and grow from it. Get over it. Learn from it. Get on with it.

About David Spitulnik

David Spitulnik is a successful executive with over 35 years experience in both large technology companies and in consulting to and leadership of mid-market, closely held and family owned businesses across a variety of industries. David is an Executive Coach and works with individuals and organizations to develop and implement strategies that drive transformation, growth,…

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