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April 2016
Communication at Work

Not a Failure, an OpportunityPatti Lind

There is failure in Communication. I try very hard to be successful with communication and all the while, I know there will be times of failure. I will fail from everything that happens between lack of trying and trying too hard. There can be failure in handling the moment well, in recognizing my own contributions to a problem and in realizing that effective communication rests upon the foundation of establishing connection. I will fail. And so will you.

Thankfully, we can learn from our failures. Nelson Mandela said "I never lose. I only win or learn." Looking back, I know that my deepest learnings have risen from my failures more than from my successes. A long time ago, I totally bombed in front of a roomful of surgeons. I was told that I was the "laughing stock in the physicians' lounge" the next day. For two weeks, I decided to blame them and told myself "I just won't work with surgeons." Fortunately I came to my senses and decided I needed to learn how to work with surgeons. So, I started interviewing people who might give me insight. I learned about getting to my point quickly, being 100% practical, holding my own comfortably and not needing their approval. I became better at my business and who I am as a person because of that big dose of public failure.

Here's another example. I once asked a leader "Why do you think people have a hard time coming to you directly?" He got up out of his chair, left the room and started filling his office with staff demanding them to tell me if he was difficult to approach? Unbeknownst to me, all work had come to a standstill while people stood outside his door waiting to be escorted in. Needless to say, I got pulled off that job. Hmmm....what could I have done to stop it and set people at ease? I came up with a plan and ten years later, I got the chance to implement it. When a similar scenario started emerging, I took the person aside and said, How many people do you have standing outside your door? This isn't how I interview people. It is disruptive and scary.

Over time I have gotten so used to overcoming failure that one of my colleagues once told me, "You pick yourself up off the floor faster than anyone I know." I started learning from my failures in my 30's. To do this, I had to learn how to curb my desire to blame, overcome my shame and make a conscious shift towards learning. What is it that I don't know? What is keeping me stuck in this problem? By doing this, my ability to learn about communication took off like a rocket. I learned about assertion, managing my emotions, the differences between negotiable and non-negotiable, the importance of stating expectations upfront and the need to always have a backup plan when going into a volatile situation.
This is how I do it …
  • After a brief vent or two, I challenge myself….how much of this is my own fault?
  • Who can give me some honest feedback?
  • What do I need to learn?
  • What will be my go forward plan if this happens again?

The next time you feel 100% stuck or shrinking with shame, pay attention to the signs that you have not shifted into learning mode. Here are some of the signs:
  • Casting the blame on others. They are incompetent, bad or out to get me.
  • Blaming the System. I wouldn't get mad if it wasn't for this broken system.
  • Telling yourself that retreat is your only option. I'll just keep to myself. I'm not going to speak up anymore.
  • Surrounding yourself with people who reinforce your efforts to blame and isolate. That's not fair. That shouldn't happen to you!!
  • Anger, self-righteousness, bitterness.

Choices like these don't lead towards anything good. They don't build towards a stronger self and they don't help you shine. Sadly, they ensure that a momentary failure will remain a failure. Seriously consider following the path of Nelson Mandela and either win or learn. As difficult as it might feel at the time, when we take ownership for our part and decide to learn, the more capable we can become. In the long run it is by far the easier, more satisfying path.
Put up some poster board with the Nelson Mandela quote at the top. Place some colorful writing markers nearby and encourage people to write down a sentence two describing what they learned from failure. Here's mine— I learned to be brave.
What’s yours?

Here are two suggestions for books associated with integrating the lessons of failure. Both of them are excellent!

Pema Chodron's When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times. I gained a lot of strength from this book and it helped me realize that there are threads of good news right alongside the arrival of bad news.

Brene Brown's, Daring Greatly. This book is based upon the premise that perfection and being bulletproof are not the human experience. Taking risks, being willing to fail and trying again are the stuff of a rich life.

My book, Communication At Work, is available in paperback, Kindle, Nook, and eBook formats, and may be purchased at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powell Bookstore and Inkwater Press.
Communication at Work

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