MRO Magazine

How to Confront and Overcome Setbacks

Imagine one of these scenarios: You work feverishly on a complex project for two long months, only to have the major details suddenly blow up in your face. Or: You spend days implementing new Lean maintenance techniques only to find your staff doe...


November 1, 2004
By Richard G. Ensman, Jr.

Imagine one of these scenarios: You work feverishly on a complex project for two long months, only to have the major details suddenly blow up in your face. Or: You spend days implementing new Lean maintenance techniques only to find your staff doesn’t buy in to the concept. Or: You’ve spent weeks cultivating a new account only to discover that your prospect bought from someone else. Or: You had your heart set on expanding your business through the introduction of a new product line, but after months of preparation you’re embarrassed to find quality problems.

These are setbacks. Unfortunately, setbacks are an occasional — and sometimes, common — part of life. When they’re not managed well, setbacks can result in low morale and loss of enthusiasm. They can drag you and your operation down.

Don’t let this happen. Use this simple four-step formula to manage the inevitable setbacks you encounter in your professional life:

A: Analyze your feelings. The first thing you notice when you encounter a setback is that you feel ‘down’ or troubled. Perhaps you’re angry at someone for not handling a detail well. Or you might feel any one of a number of other emotions: rejection, fear, denial or anxiety, for instance. By identifying the nature of your emotion, you’ll put yourself in a better position to confront the underlying problem.

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For example: If you’re upset about being rejected over a slam-dunk sale, ask yourself: Is this the latest in a long string of rejections? Does rejection pose a special problem for you?

B: Believe in yourself. This is the time to think about your past and potential accomplishments. It’s time to take systematic stock of your skills, talents and abilities that others have noticed about you.

For example: If you’re encountering a sales problem, think about the wide range of prospects you’ve successfully cultivated in the past or the excellent work you do on an ongoing basis with your regular customers. By resolving to affirm yourself, you keep the problem in balance.

C: Control what you can. The greatest source of stress in life is lack of control over events. And problems, by their very nature, bring about a lack of control. But chances are that even the most die-hard problems still afford you some measure of control. So ask yourself: What can you influence?

For example: Let’s say that you’ve lost a valuable employee and you’re worried that your maintenance operations are going to suffer. What can you control? The list could be quite long — job description, salary and benefits that could attract new people. Or other talented people who could pick up some of the slack. Or professional contacts that could be used to bring a new person on board. What’s common about all of these elements is that you initiate them.

Finally, remember this: whatever else happens, you can always control your attitude.

D: Decide which option to pursue. You have options. After examining the problem, it’s time to inventory the prospective courses of action. And then, it’s time to assess the costs and benefits, as well as the probability of success, of each option.

For example: If you’re facing unexpected competition in your marketing efforts, you might identify and analyze three options open to you — positioning yourself as a unique alternative to your competitors, cultivating an entirely new market or exceeding the terms your competition offers. List the actions likely to give you the best and fastest results in order of priority. You’ll then set the stage for action.

You can always count on setbacks occurring. But remember what many wise sages have said: Without setbacks, the likelihood of success dims. So prepare yourself to manage those inevitable setbacks in the hope of breeding lasting achievement in the months and years to come.

Richard G. Ensman, Jr., is a regular contributor to Machinery & Equipment MRO.