The Velvet Hammer: 2.22.17

Q: As a group leader, I’ve always encouraged my team to take risks. Consequently, we’ve experienced a few failures along the way. I’ve been told you can learn a lot from failing. Frankly, that’s easier said than done and I could use some advice on how to put failure to work.
—How Not to Flunk at Failure

A: Learning from our mistakes sounds simple, but many of us find it hard to do. For one thing, it’s not easy admitting failure, especially in today’s culture of ever-higher performance expectations. What’s even tougher is to accept that failure does not excuse our own incompetence or a half-hearted effort. That said, it’s easy to flunk failure itself and miss the valuable insights it holds. The first step is to be able to admit that you failed. Covering up for failure only leads to self-deception and possibly further failure down the road. Experts say that exercising a little humility and humor can go a long way here. And, being able to talk openly about failure demonstrates that you truly understand the importance and necessity of trial and error, which, in many cases, contributes to future success.

Asking the basic questions of why, where, how and what went wrong is imperative. Don’t start with discussing who is responsible; this just tells your team you’re more interested in assessing blame than figuring out what your team can learn from this failure. Again, use a little humility, even humor, by sharing some of your own past failures and what became clearer as a result. It is all about ongoing, open communication that allows for discovery of possible problems. These can be corrected before your next trial and error turns into ‘trial and terror.’

Q: Lately, I seem to find myself worrying about every element of my work, and I know I’m driving my office mates crazy. Any thoughts or mantra to help a habitual worrier?
—Need a Motivator

A: Not knowing the root of your habitual worrying, I’m not so sure a snappy motivator will do the trick. And, depending on what you are stressing about, you might want to consider addressing this issue on a deeper level with a professional counselor. However, when dealing with a nail biter at the office, I’ve found helpful the following couple of lines exchanged in the movie Bridge of Spies. The first line is: “Aren’t you worried?” The next is: “Would it help?” So, for me, and hopefully for you, if it doesn’t help to worry, why waste your time doing it (or that of your colleagues)?

If you have a question for Joan, send it to Joan Lee Berkman is a marketing and public relations consultant.