Full Screen

Turning Setbacks Into Opportunities

More Free Lessons in

Digital Management and Leadership View All →

Get cutting-edge digital marketing skills, know-how and strategy

This micro lesson is from one of our globally recognized digital marketing courses.

Start a FREE Course Preview Start a FREE Course Preview
Global Authority

The Global Authority

12 years delivering excellence


245,000+ Members

Join a global community


Associate Certification

Globally recognised


Membership Included

Toolkits, content & more

Digital Marketing - Study Notes:

When dealing with setbacks, it's important to remember that, in many cases, setbacks can be turned into opportunities. A setback could be an opportunity to grow, gain new insights and knowledge, streamline processes, advance in new directions, and to succeed in future endeavors. It all comes back to your mindset. If you have tenacity, doggedness, and resilience, you can always see the silver lining in any failure and open yourself up to new opportunities.

First, do nothing

When dealing with setbacks, the first thing to do is nothing. It's important not to over-react. Don’t give into blind panicking or indulge in blaming others. Do nothing. Pause in the moment instead. Take time to physically pause, take a deep breath, and compose yourself. Step back from the situation for a minute. Consider the specific setback and the resulting challenges it brings. And only then consider a range of solutions and possible associated opportunities.

Invite negative personal feedback

We all know that it’s not very pleasant to listen to negative feedback about ourselves! However, it can prove incredibly useful, as it may unearth information you would not otherwise get to hear.

You can gather negative personal feedback in two ways.

Negative assertion

This involves you giving negative feedback to yourself. Not an easy thing to do, I know! But, by stating something negative about yourself, you can take ownership of your weaknesses and mistakes assertively. And you are not hiding from your weaknesses.

Then, if someone makes a fair criticism of your setback, your response should be: “Yes, I agree.” You are being honest and could benefit from this criticism. The critic, in turn, now knows that you have listened and are considering what they have said. And your honesty is also likely to disarm the critic!

Negative enquiry

This is where you proactively invite criticism. Again, this may not be very pleasant, but it will enable you to find out precisely why someone is angry, displeased, or critical of your actions regarding the setback. It is called negative enquiry because you ask specific questions, which could result in you hearing something negative about yourself and your actions. For example, “Why do you feel that I did not give you enough information to complete the task?” By asking questions like this, you gain more knowledge, and can learn from and respond to the situation.

Remember, knowledge is power. If you do not ask the tough questions, you will never get to hear what it is that you need to listen to, to turn setbacks into opportunities.

Study others who have previously failed in your company or sector

People are more willing these days to share with others how and why they failed, what they learned, and how they got back on track. We all need to learn from our own mistakes, but it can be very useful to try to learn from other people’s mistakes too. This may help you gain useful insights that you can turn to your own advantage.

However, as you can imagine, you need to be diplomatic in this situation. Be careful how you phrase your questions when approaching a peer or colleague about a previous setback. Do not ask them to ‘help’ you to understand the reasons for their setback. Asking another person for ‘help’ often triggers a fear response. The person being asked for help is now imagining having to revisit the setback, which may produce emotional feelings of failure in their memories.

How you frame your question can determine the type of response you receive. So don’t ask, “Can I ask for your help to understand the recent setback?” Frame the question as appealing to the experience and knowledge of the other person. Ask, “Can I ask for your assistance to understand the recent setback?” Asking for ‘assistance’ is less of an emotional trigger than asking for ‘help.’

Opportunity in action

For example, I coached a number of scientists in a cancer research facility. They were tasked with one overall aim: to find a cure for cancer. Every three weeks, they had to make a video call to their Canadian and Belgian investors to brief them on progress to date.

On a daily basis, they mostly failed in their primary objective. They hadn’t yet found a cure for cancer. However, from their list of failures, they gathered valuable research data and defined new processes. These were then patented and turned into revenue streams. Out of continuing failure came a return on investment!

Back to Top
Kevin J Reid

CEO of Personal Skills Training, Senior Coach at Kevin J Reid Coaching, Co-founder and Communications Director of The Counsel.ie, and Lead Collaborator of LeitrimMade.com

  • A consummate and skillful international communications trainer, facilitator, and coach
  • Has over 15 years of learning development experience with individuals, teams, and entire organizations
  • Has facilitated communications workshops and training across numerous sectors in Ireland, the UK, Europe, America, and Africa

The following pieces of content from the Digital Marketing Institute's Membership Library have been chosen to offer additional material that you might find interesting or insightful.

You can find more information and content like this on the Digital Marketing Institute's Membership Library

You will not be assessed on this content.


    Personal Skills
    Kevin J Reid
    Skills Expert

    When it comes to improving your personal skills in the workplace, four essential skills stand out: the ability to be more productive at work; the ability to adapt to a changing work environment; the ability to manage your time effectively; and the ability to deal with setbacks. This module focuses on enhancing your skills in these four critical areas.

    When it comes to productivity, you will learn about the difference between being busy and being productive, and techniques you can use to increase your output and to deal with unwelcome distractions and interruptions.

    The lesson on adaptability focuses on how to cultivate an adaptable mind-set at work, and how to find alternative – and innovative – solutions to problems by using tactics like brainstorming and mind-mapping.

    The time-management lesson explains how to prioritize tasks and set goals, how to save and create time, and how to eliminate personal time stealers such as excessively viewing email or attending too many meetings.

    The module concludes with a lesson on how to respond to setbacks in the workplace. You will discover the importance of demonstrating resilience in the face of adversity, and how to turn setbacks into valuable learning opportunities.