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Understanding how to fix things when they go wrong

Things will go wrong. What you can control as a leader is how you react, respond and internalize setbacks.

6 min read


Understanding how to fix things when they go wrong


Each of us has faced at least one event in our lives when things didn’t just go our way. When circumstances end up going “wrong,” it simply means that events unfolded in a way that we weren’t expecting to happen. 

However, when things don’t go our way, it can cause us to rapidly go into “crisis” mode, kickstarting our fight-or-flight response as a way to either remedy the situation at hand or remove ourselves from it.

The thing is, the best way to deal with things when they don’t go our way isn’t to scramble to piece them back together, or to run away from the problem. Instead, the best course of action is to step away from the situation, analyze it objectively and regain control of your thought process with logic, rather than emotion. This will allow you to regain control of your physical responses.

By allowing yourself the time to better understand how things went wrong in the first place, you subsequently grant yourself the ability to address and analyze the situation. This, in turn, will grant you a broader perspective on the situation, allowing you to acknowledge the series of events that caused the situation to go “wrong” in the first place.

Understanding why things went wrong should be done in the debrief of the situation. In the moment, it doesn’t matter why things went wrong. What matters is what we are going to do about it and how we can better equip ourselves with the tools needed to fix things. 

Here are three key steps you can take in order to better understand how to fix things when they don’t go your way, regardless of the situation, circumstance or setting.

1. Regain control of your thought process first

Whenever things don’t go our way, our inherent response is usually one of — at best — frustration. Think of a time when your company lost a vital client or was unable to deliver a crucial project on time. Was your response, or that your leadership’s, one of anger at the situation, or was it one of wanting to understand what, when and how things went wrong in the first place?

It’s much easier to allow ourselves to be led by emotions when things don’t go according to plan, but reacting in this way can cause us to place blame on ourselves or others, oftentimes unfairly. Rather than embracing the innate desire to blame, use emotionally charged words or convey detrimental tones with others out of frustration, you must allow yourself a moment to breathe and think through the circumstances that caused things to go wrong. 

This will let you avoid the natural tendency to blame yourself or others. By sticking to the facts and remaining empathic in explaining how you’re going to resolve the situation, you place your logic (rather than emotions) back in control.

Were the circumstances outside of your control? Do they negatively affect you, your employees, your organization, or its stakeholders. If so, how? What can be done to remedy the situation moving forward?

These questions and others like them are vital to ask yourself when things go wrong. They allow you to be more mindful of the circumstances and focus on the future. There’s plenty of time to figure out what went wrong later. Right now, it’s about remedying the situation. 

By stepping back and analyzing the situation from a more objective perspective, you can get to work on rapidly addressing a solution for the issue (if a solution is immediately required). In doing so, you can also exemplify for peers and colleagues how to behave in similar situations.

2. Recognize the stress and move forward with confidence

Life is full of surprises and challenges, many of which are unwelcome simply because we couldn’t or didn’t predict them happening. In any event that causes us stress, but especially when things go wrong, reacting and leading with empathy and understanding can offer us potential avenues of solutions that we may not otherwise acknowledge.

For example, if the situation going wrong causes you to feel stressed, one simple solution could be to ask others for help. Similarly, feeling stressed about the circumstances can cause our confidence to tank. This is where empathy comes into play: By being compassionate to yourself in recognizing how you handled previous situations, you can restore your self-confidence enough to address what’s going wrong, work with others to find a solution and then implement it.

No one wants to recognize the negative stressors in their lives, but when things go wrong, we more than likely don’t have a choice. Doing so with empathy and understanding can not only lead to a quicker recovery of the situation, but also serve as a reminder to you that — regardless of how stressful the circumstances make you feel at first — you can overcome and move on, just as you have before. 

Whatever doesn’t kill you may hurt, but you will come away from it stronger and more knowledgeable than before.

3.Repeat after me: “This, too, shall pass”

Once you have addressed the situation with mindfulness and awareness, crafted a solution and reminded yourself that you have withstood similar circumstances in the past, you can rest assured that this situation, too, will soon be a memory. Most of the problems we have faced earlier in life have little (if any) impact on our present lives, and will have even less impact three, five or 10 years from now.

If you are able to address the present “wrong” situation with confidence, you can likewise tell yourself that you have the confidence to solve it. And once the situation has been resolved, there is no longer a need to worry about or stress over it. 

Even if your current circumstances leave you feeling sad, angry, frustrated or overwhelmed, remaining mindful that good things are bound to happen in the coming days, weeks, or months can help alleviate some of this worry. 

There may even be a silver lining. Even if today’s situation is nothing more than a learning lesson, you can use this knowledge to move on and avoid similar situations in the future. Nothing lasts forever, even stress and worry, and understanding this will provide you with the clarity to fix similar situations whenever they go wrong for you.


Melissa DeLay is founder and CEO of TruPerception. She has more than two decades of experience helping executives, managers, salespeople and customer-facing professionals gain the skills they need to communicate with confidence, regardless of the situation.

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