Monthly Archives: May 2012

It’s Hard To Say I’m Sorry

Cynthia walked into the break room to discover her employee file sitting open next to a cup of coffee and a half-eaten chocolate doughnut. Anyone walking into the break room would quickly and easily see the page listing her salary history. She grabbed the file, stormed into Jon’s office, and confronted him. Feeling embarrassed and angry, she wondered who else had seen the file before she had a chance to grab it.

Jon immediately jumped into a defensive state. He blamed another co-worker for calling him out of the break room on a so-called emergency that ended up being something minor. He told Cynthia that she was overreacting and that he was sure no one had seen the files. She listened to him defend his actions and back-peddle for five minutes without once apologizing. Without saying a word, she turned around, closed the door, and headed up to Jon’s boss’ office.

How would this scenario have ended had Jon simply apologized to Cynthia, taken accountability for his actions, and offered a plan for making sure it would never happen again? Cynthia likely would have calmed down and been able to move forward with her work, and Jon’s boss would not have had to be involved.

Imagine a scenario in your workplace where trust has been violated. Perhaps it’s nothing catastrophic, but still disappointing. A promise was broken. The relationship continues, but it’s hard to see them the same way. Learning to manage this kind of conflict is difficult. Balance is the goal. Some tend to ignore the situation. Others, like Jon, escalate matters, creating unnecessary drama.

What would happen if you called a timeout and debriefed the damage? What would it take to truly repair such a breach? Perhaps an open-minded exchange of perspectives would follow. Maybe a discussion of the circumstances would bring context to the choices. Maybe a simple apology would begin to mend the rupture.

When mistakes are made, there are consequences. It’s all about what you do next.


Protesting Perfection

It seems odd to be grateful for a mistake. When we make mistakes, the typical physical responses kick into gear: the pit in the stomach, the heart sinking, the flushing face, the “oh $#%!” moment of “WHAT DID I DO?!?” The alternative is achieving perfection. But is perfection a worthy goal? Do we learn if we’re perfect? Or should we protest perfection and thank our mistakes?

A 23-year-old rock guitarist was nearing perfection with his craft. He was proud of his accomplishments, but felt stuck. As he faced the end of this journey, he considered his next adventure. He chose to sacrifice his mastery of the rock genre to undertake a quest that would require dedicated daily practice for decades: the study of jazz. He believed he wouldn’t be able to live enough years to master his new goal. This, he said, was reason enough to get up each morning. He has since released three acclaimed jazz guitar CDs and continues to push the limits of music, thanking mistakes as they create opportunities and teach him more about his new adventures.

Responding to the call is a choice. It’s easier not to. Following a path of least resistance protects the safety of the status quo and increases the likelihood that you can be the king of a small hill. You can celebrate accomplishment, stake your claim, and trumpet the achievement of perfection while the rest of the world breaks the mold and transforms.

Invite risk. Stretch limits. Embrace discomfort. Thank mistakes. Dare to fail.

Protest perfection.