Resilience Moving from Blaming to Learning from Mistakes

Resilience: Moving from Blaming to Learning from Mistakes

“That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”
Friedrich Nietzche

“There are no mistakes, only learning opportunities”—and that is a great sentiment. In practice, however, our humanity often pulls us to view failures in a negative and often “blaming” light.

Could a part of the problem lie in the human tendency to blame, avoid or criticize? How can we learn anything if our emotional energy is tied up in assigning blame, avoiding accountability, or listening to our inner critic?

In my blog Career Resilience: The Art of Bouncing Back, I discussed my coaching sessions with leaders and career clients and how often they want to learn how to manage their emotional reactions to perceived failures or how to stop tolerating a culture of blame in the work place.

In the 1930s, psychologist Saul Rosenzweig proposed three broad personality categories for how we and workplaces may experience anger and frustration:

  1. Extrapunitive: Prone to unfairly blame others
  2. Impunitive: Denies that failure has occurred or one’s own role in it
  3. Intropunitive: Judges self too harshly and imagines failures where none exist

Extrapunitive and impunitive responses are common to both genders; however, due to socialization and other gender influences, women are more likely to be intropunitive.

Fortunately, leaders’ at all organizational levels can learn a SMARTER response to failure that taps into their emotional and social intelligence strengths. In “Can You Handle Failure?” (Harvard Business Review, April 2011), Ben Dattner and Robert Hogan suggest several highly effective steps that every leader and career entrepreneur can employ.

Cultivate Self-Awareness

First, identify which of the three blaming styles you use. (Note: They occur automatically and immediately, so they are unconscious emotional responses.)

  1. Do you look to blame others?
  2. Deny blame?
  3. Blame yourself?

Next, take at least one self-assessment to broaden your understanding or your emotional or social interaction style. Two assessments that I like to use in my coaching practice are the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator which identifies workstyle preferences and the EQ-i 2.0, that identifies social and emotional intelligence resilience skills. Self-awareness provides space for reflection, reframing and re focusing on how to view a mistake as a learning event.

For example, think about challenging events or jobs in your career, and consider how you handled them. What could you have done better? Ask trusted colleagues, mentors or coaches to share your reactions to, and explanations for, failures.

Pay close attention to the subtleties of how people respond to you in workplace situations. If you’re in a leadership position, be aware that what you say may be perceived as criticism, due to the hierarchical nature of your job- often referred to as “position power”. Discuss the three reactions to the blame game with your team? Then, create cultural norms that make it easy to have a conversation about what was learned from a failure? There is always a lesson to be found!

What are your suggestions for improving awareness around mistakes in the workplace and how to shift from the “blame game” to “what’s the lesson to be learned? I’d love to hear from you, leave a comment.


Cynthia Kivland, Author and President Smart2Smarter Coaching, Training and Assessment Services has over twenty five years of accomplished career coaching experience working with very smart people, leaders and teams including MBA’s, military, scientists, CEO’s, and healthcare professionals. Join Cynthia’s Career and Workplace Resilience group on LinkedIn. To have a chat about coaching, training and career resilience resources Contact Cynthia.

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