Running a business means winning and losing. But compared to the average person, says a new study, businesspeople are “sorer” losers than others.
Rob Stearns, a former CEO and author of Winning Smart After Losing Big (Encounter Books), interviewed 300 people, executives among them, to discover how people deal with loss. His findings: generally, business people expect to win all the time and judge themselves by the frequency of their wins. The bad news is, according to Stearns, when executives suffer a loss — perhaps a valuable employee quits or you lose a big sale — your negative reaction can cripple operations and set you up for more failure. Luckily, mastering certain coping mechanisms can help you get over the loss and nab your next big victory.
Play the blame game
Stearns stresses that specific people lose, not whole institutions. It’s easy to say your company didn’t sell enough of a certain product, and beat yourself up over it, but the fact is someone in the sales department did not meet his quota. Yes, it’s your company, but place the blame where it actually belongs and you’ll get over it faster.
Help, I need somebody
Recovering from a big loss alone can be stressful, so ask for help from a mentor or business advisor, recommends Sterns. Learning from those who have experienced similar losses is reassuring. “When you’re an entrepreneur and in trouble,” he says, “you want to turn to someone with experience and education, not a cheerleader.”
Be sure to be specific in your request for help. Stearns’ research shows that asking for general help isn’t as useful as defining exactly what kind of assistance is needed.
Ignore the instant replays
After suffering a loss, avoid replaying the situation in your mind over and over again. “Thinking ‘What if?’ is counter-productive because it mires you in the past and the past in unchangeable,” says Stearns. Facing forward after a loss is much healthier for mind and business than reliving failures, as hurtful as they can be.
Take baby steps to recover
Part of getting past a loss is winning incrementally. It’s tempting to try to rebound all at once to erase the loss from your mind, but that’s not realistic. “If you plan an impossible goal, you’re setting yourself up for yet another loss,” Stearns says. Rather, set smaller, achievable goals and write them down in a contract-like letter.
Change the loss into a win
All this recovery requires rational thinking and emotional stability. “To win after a major loss, you must control enormous surges of feelings with conscious thought and a potent dose of self-honesty,” Stearns writes. Turning to a modern example, Stearns cites the rapid recovery of Johnson & Johnson after it learned some Tylenol bottles were poisoned. The company didn’t panic, but took swift remedial action. It quickly pulled Tylenol bottles off shelves, reassured customers of its brand’s quality and taught entrepreneurs a lesson now emphasized by Stearns: Instead of watching yourself lose, take immediate action. “The most important thing to do after suffering a loss,” says Stearns, “is creating a win for yourself to show that you’re capable of rebounding.”
© 2004 David Silverberg