Feel Your Feelings to Learn From Your Mistakes

The workplace is no place for emotion, according to popular wisdom. Keeping your composure is obviously the best course in most scenarios (at least until you can go cry in the bathroom), but according to a new study, losing it may have some benefits. The more you stuff down your feelings about failure, the less likely you are to learn from your mistakes.

Researchers at Ohio State University tracked emotional responses to a rigged experiment about finding deals online. Participants were told they'd receive a cash prize if they found the cheapest blender with certain specifications, but at the end of the study, researchers told them they'd been off by $3.27. Before they learned their results, half the participants focused on how they would feel about winning or losing, while the other half tried to anticipate how they did. Those who only thought about their failure tended to protect themselves with justifications ("It wasn't my fault"), while those who considered their emotions tended toward thoughts of self-improvement ("I'll do better next time").

Dwelling on the pain of a misstep or a failure isn't fun or easy, and in excess, it can certainly harm rather than help. But in a professional context, screwing up and knowing it can create opportunities. Seek out extra training or mentorship if you're experiencing this a lot, whether it's in the task at hand or the skill sets related to navigating office culture. Managers especially may struggle if they've been promoted out of the trenches with little guidance on what managing people really entails.

Alison Green, the blogger behind Ask a Manager, offers excellent advice for all employees on handling mistakes at the office. If you're not sure where to start, she provides scripts for clear communication and owning your actions without digging yourself into a hole; browse some of her favorite posts for insights on managing up, taking criticism, negotiating conflicts, and the job hunt.

If you find yourself unable to move on from mistakes or worrying about them out of proportion, a therapist can help you work through those feelings and teach you how to cope with them to move on. But repressing your emotions or thinking about them rather than feelings can thwart you in the long run. Learning how to handle your mistakes and how to formulate next steps will always pay off.