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Finding New Strategies for Bouncing Back

When it comes to developing better resilience in the face of uncertainty and failures, both self-awareness and political awareness are key.

Whereas self-awareness helps you understand the messages you’re sending, political awareness helps you understand the messages others are receiving. It requires you to know how your organization defines, explains, and assigns responsibility for failure, as well as how the system allows for remedial attempts.

When I'm coaching or training executives, we work a lot on developing political savvy. Political awareness involves finding the right way to approach mistakes within your specific organization, department, and role.

Once you’ve become more aware of your failure response style (and your bad habits), you can move toward more open and adaptive behaviors.

Business consultants Ben Dattner and Robert Hogan suggest several effective steps in “Can You Handle Failure?” (Harvard Business Review, April 2011).

Practice these strategies the next time mistakes and failures present challenges:

  • Listen and communicate. Most of us forget to gather enough feedback and information before reacting, especially when it comes to bad news. Never assume you know what others are thinking or that you understand them until you ask good questions.

  • Reflect on both the situation and the We’re good at picking up patterns and making assumptions. Remember, however, that each situation is unique and has context.

  • Think before you act. You don’t have to respond immediately or impulsively. You can always make things worse by overreacting in a highly charged situation.

  • Search for a lesson. Look for nuance and context. Sometimes a colleague or a group is at fault, sometimes you are, and sometimes no one is to blame. Create and test hypotheses about why the failure occurred to prevent it from happening again.

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