Did something go badly? A “discussion” with a spouse or coworker that ended in acrimony? A proposal that flopped?
When something goes badly, you may be tempted to forget about it and just try to do better next time. But the secret to doing better lies in thinking more about that failure now, even though it’s a little unpleasant.
Right now, in hindsight, you have a lot more information and a lot less pressure to figure out a better approach. It’s a golden opportunity to learn something. Just ask yourself:
“What do I wish I had done differently?”
“Knowing what I know now, what could I do differently another time?”
Sometimes, you’ll see you missed something that you think you should have known. Maybe you realize that some technique you learned in a class would have helped.
If you have an acrimonious discussion, perhaps you would recall that techniques like “I language” or “active listening” are supposed to help. If you had a dud of a proposal, you might recall a technique for a “potential problem analysis” that could have helped. (These techniques exist — see references at the bottom.)
There’s no reason to kick yourself for forgetting theoretical material in the heat of the moment. At first, everyone has trouble applying new concepts they’ve learned from books and classes. To use those concepts, you need to reflect on how they apply to real, concrete situations in your life.
Your failure offers a perfect opportunity to do that. By looking back at how to apply that book-learning now, you can turn it into practical knowledge that you can call on the next time. When you review theory using a personally important example, the theory becomes practical.
Other times, you will realize that you don’t know anything you could have done differently. That can be instructive in a different way.
Suppose you conclude that you don’t know how to avoid “pushing the buttons” of the other person, or you don’t know how to establish the value of your services in a proposal. Having articulated what you don’t know, you can now look for those who do know how to do that . . . and you can learn from them.
This sets you up for success. You learn much more from an expert’s books or classes when you come with ready-made personal examples you can relate the ideas to. A burning urgency to apply the skill to your life right now is the best motivation to learn.
One way or another, thinking about how you’d redo a failure is guaranteed to help you learn how to do better next time. And that sure beats the alternative: Fail, fail again, in exactly the same way as before.
Notes: You can learn more about “I language” and “Active Listening” from Thomas Gordon’s Book, “Leader Effectiveness Training: L.E.T..” You can learn more about a “potential problem analysis” from Kepner and Tregoe’s, “The New Rational Manager: An Updated Edition for a New World.” My recommendation for Kepner and Tregoe’s book is here.