Have you ever been in a situation where you have to repeat an action which went badly the last time you did it? I hear people say things like
‘The last time I contributed to a team project, my ideas were overlooked.’
‘The last time I said how I really feel in my appraisal, my boss didn’t listen.’
”The last time I went to an interview, I was so nervous I went completely blank.’
The last time I had to discipline a team member, she burst into tears.’
All those ‘last times’ can shatter our confidence. We all know the adage ‘if you fall off a horse, get straight back on’ but it’s not always that simple. Our concerns about ‘last time’ can make it very hard for us to get to ‘next tim.
If you’re a manager with a team member who’s hung up on ‘last time’, how can you help them? These situations happen outside the workplace too: how can you help a friend or family member who’s consumed with anxiety about ‘next time’?
Here are some ideas taken from a recent session with my client, James, who has had to handle the impact of ‘last time’ with one of his team members.
Establish what actually happened
Was it really a disaster? If so, then that needs to be acknowledged: brushing it under the carpet won’t help anyone. If the evidence and the feedback suggests they might be over-reacting, you can use that to help them see the event for what it actually was.
Go through the ‘last time’ step by step, looking for clues as to what when wrong when. Sometimes, there is just one factor which set off a chain of events. Are there any patterns to identify? In James’ case, his team member noticed that she finds setting up the technology for her presentations really stressful and then she’s on edge before she even begins.
Whilst we may have to do the same thing again and again – make a presentation, discipline a team member, write a board report – those situations are never identical. The people change, the venues change, the subject matter changes, we ourselves change: ‘next time’ is not going to be the same as ‘last time’ so we can influence the outcome.
Make a plan
Having identified what actually happened, any contributory factors and what’s changed, the final stage is to make a plan.
James helped his team member to identify simple ways in which she could handle her fear of setting up her presentation and create a back-up plan in case technology let her down. This came in very handy when she went to her next presentation and the power failed halfway through!
Whilst we cannot change the past, we can influence the future.
Today’s pebble for you to ponder: is ‘last time’ getting in the way of ‘next time’?
Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching.
If you’re ready for transformation, why not email me to see how we can work together?