First Reaction When Things Go Wrong

Imagine when a project you involved with has just gone terribly wrong. What is your first reaction?

Human has a primal defense system. In face of unpleasant outcome or threats, this defense system will subconsciously take over, drive us to get emotional and look for ways to protect our personal interest.

In a typical corporate setting, the manager may be looking for someone to blame or yell at.


No one wants to have his/her personal reputation tarnished or get into trouble that may negatively affect one’s status within the corporate ladder. So the natural instinct is to focus on the wrong-doing and blow off the steam on whoever the prime target is.

What follows is to build a case against this poor target and offload all the responsibilities to him/her, the standard “finding the scapegoat” pattern commonly found in many organizations.

But if the manager is ultimately responsible for the success of the company, this primal reaction of pointing fingers doesn’t really do anyone any good. So how can the manager do better?

First, we need to understand the cause of the issue.

Under what circumstances result in the wrong-doing?

As soon as we zero in to the cause, we can focus on finding the solution to the problem, pulling the team together and executing on the plan to minimize the impact caused by the mishap.

As far as the first reaction is concerned, focus on the solution, not responsibility, though a postmortem will always help to re-evaluate the responsibility among the team and make adjustment accordingly.

Same logic applies to our personal life. It all boils down to building a buffer between the reality and our internal self. The bigger the buffer, the more robust we are to handle unpleasant surprises.

The buffer serves as our protective shield. It helps us to absorb whatever reality throws at us, filter out all the useless primal reactions, direct our focus to problem solving and find solution to turn things around. By going through this series of steps, our buffer enables us to make sound judgement call without being influenced by our emotion.

Things happen for many different reasons and we simply can’t control what had happened. Even with the most calculated plan, things can still go wrong due to the intrinsic uncertainty governing our universe.

The good news is, we can control how we interpret what had happened and funnel the experience in the most positive light that can help us to stay focused, stop the downward spiral destructive chain reaction, and do something positive about it.

In the process, we can discover new hidden opportunity that we may never run into otherwise. Once we grasp this amazing truth, we can start to condition our brain to continuously expand this buffer.

Next time when we run into a situation, we will be well prepared. As long as we keep exercising this newly found buffer in our brain, it will only get stronger with time. Let’s get our buffer to work and enjoy our new found power!


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