MANY education systems do not teach us how to face failure and deal with it productively. Failure is considered by many to be a deep embarrassment, a dirty little secret not to be discussed in public.

We have been led to believe that losing one's job, not getting a merit bonus and not getting that promotion are in themselves grave failures.

For example, suppose you attended a job interview last week. You have just received an e-mail message from the company informing you that you have not been selected for the job. Would it be fair to say that you failed? Or should we say that your performance in that interview failed?

If you think you failed as a person, then you will label yourself as a failure and generalise this to other situations. You will feel hopeless. If you think your failure is due to something internal - your abilities, for instance - then you are more likely to be depressed.

Take an example from my own experience. I have a Master of Business Administration degree, and I strive continually to update my skills and knowledge. I took a driving test and failed. Does this mean that my other achievements do not count?

Failure is a judgment about events. Attribute your failure to a specific behaviour. Learn to say, "I did not fail, my behaviour failed".

Failure is not a condemnation of character. It is not a permanent condition.

All of us constantly reinterpret our failures. We blame other people and external events for our failures. We do not look back to see what part we ourselves may have played.

Remember that each failure is specific. It is important to fail and important to give our children permission to fail. By giving our children an opportunity to survive defeat, we make them tougher and more resilient to face the challenges of the future.

Some of the common causes of failure are:

Poor social skills

This is one of the biggest reasons for career failure. Conversely, interpersonal skills or social intelligence is one of the most important skills to acquire.

Social intelligence consists of:

Being sensitive to others

* Being emotionally steady

* Listening carefully to what others say

* Taking criticism constructively

* Being empathetic

* Building team support

Wrong fit

You may be a "misfit". A successful career requires a match of your abilities, personality style and values with that of the culture in which you work.

I know of a senior-ranking officer who left the army and joined the private sector as a director of a well-established company. Unfortunately, he used the same "command" style of management to manage the employees of the new company as he did in the army. Within two months, the CEO considered the former colonel a misfit and terminated his services.

Low self-esteem

Those who lack commitment do not involve themselves emotionally and they tend to avoid risks. They have a job but wonder why they are not doing better. Underlying the half-hearted commitment and fear of failure is a lack of self-esteem. Failure destroys self-esteem and a lack of self-esteem promotes failure.

Destructive pattern

If you have had repeated career problems, write down the particular incidents of the last two or three major setbacks you have had. The key to breaking the cycle of self-destructive behaviour is, first of all, recognising that you are engaging in it. Most of us never see patterns in what we do.

Lack of focus

By trying to do everything, we fail to focus on any one thing. We fail to set priorities.

It is common to degrade failure as having no value. But failure at something means you have at least tried. Not trying is worse.

Look back at your failures and ask yourself what important lessons can be learned from them. Many successful people have built their success on their failures.

Get rid of your fear of failure. Failure is a function of growth and changing environment. It is true that we do not always know the best way, and sometimes even if you know it, you may not have the resources to follow it.

Take unjust criticism as a disguised compliment. Successful people take responsibility for themselves and their lives.

Article by N.S. Kumar, an executive consultant with Creatif Mindz, which offers management consu lting and corporate training services to companies in South-east Asia. For more information about his management workshops and seminars, call 6297-1977