Dealing with Setbacks

Over the last few weeks I’ve been dipping in and out of the BBC coverage of the Winter Olympics. I’m a keen skier so enjoyed the downhill and slalom events, and was also drawn to the lunacy end of the spectrum with the snowboarding “slopestyle” contest – I think the people who do this must have some sort of “fear chip” that’s missing from their brain…………and that’s probably what my next blog will be about!

Anyhow what many of the events highlighted for me were the small margins between success and failure, and in particular how participants cope with the latter. I saw the interviews with Elise Christie (Speed Skating) and Andrew Musgrave (Cross Country Skiing). Here were two athletes who had genuine medal hopes. Christie was ranked in the world top 3 in 2 of her 3 events, and Musgrave had just won in Norway prior to the Olympics and was expected to win a medal. Christie was disqualified in her events – twice for minute infringements, and the third time, somewhat bafflingly for being knocked over by another skater! Musgrave came 29th and when interviewed had no excuse other than to say “I just had no energy”. For these two competitors, and countless others who went into the games with high hopes, there was no sense of “being proud to represent my country and doing my best”, just desolation that the culmination of 4 years intense training was to come away with nothing.

So how do athletes deal with setbacks,  this sense of disappointment or “failure” (to put a stronger more emotive tag on it – which some, of course, will)?

And of course, this isn’t just about elite athletes, it’s about everyday occurrences that happen to everybody at some stage in their home and work lives, and sometimes with an undesired frequency too. How do you “bounce-back”, and find the agility or strategy to recover from adversity? It’s not just a question at individual level, but for smaller and larger groupings of people too – families, teams and organisations.

I remember vividly a conversation I had with an ex-boss of mine who, in the midst of what was then a high flying career, was suddenly ousted from his job quite nastily by a somewhat unscrupulous executive who clearly saw him as a threat. I asked him how he dealing with it and he said “I’m fine – I happen to believe there are a multitude of roles out there that I can probably do better than the person currently doing them so I have no worries about my future”! Now one might call this arrogance, but fundamentally he was completely self-confident and aware of his worth. How many of us share that same level of confidence about ourselves and our futures?  Why is that?

Over the years we’ve worked with many individuals at various levels within various organisations and often use Emotional Intelligence as a profiling instrument as part of our toolkit. It has uncovered many reasons for people’s uncertainties, and how their present, and their future performance is effected by these. Used alongside other tools and activities it starts to unpick how we feel, how we think, and how we manage those thoughts and feelings. There are many other angles that can be combined here too, to provide a powerful set of insights into the way we cope with the cards we are dealt and help us be better at it. Our colleagues in one of our partner organisations have developed further insights into what they term as “personal resilience” that include looking at our physical make up and wellbeing and how this influences our ability to cope with adversity.

The evidence as to the detriment to health that is caused by mental anguish, worry and stress is overwhelming.  What is perhaps less well known is the detriment to individual and business performance in the workplace. But the research has been done – and recent information from 3 different sources (CIPD, BUPA and Gallup) are conclusive in showing a direct causal link between the way organisations and individuals deal with these things and their resultant performance.

So – I finish with a question “how effective are you or your organisation at dealing with setbacks, worry, concerns and burn-out?”