So You Had A Bad Day: How To Handle Failure In the Workplace

Nobody likes them. They hit us out of nowhere when we least expect it. One minute we’re whistling a happy tune and the next we’re crawling home crying and blaming our mothers wanting to quit our jobs and see if the local Burger Barn is still hiring. But let’s face it, we all have bad days. We all mess up. Even us motivational speakers. Yeah, I know – hard to believe.

Like the time I thought it would be fun to make my own jumpsuit in home economics and wear it to high school. It fell apart by lunch and I had to face the horrible shame of my classmates seeing that I was wearing Tuesday’s underwear on Wednesday. Or the time I accidentally shaved off one eyebrow (long story) and never could get the other one drawn on to match just right. Or the eighties, when my hair was so big that I was the reason that family of squirrels found a new home. Or the whole month I forgot to charge all our clients sales tax.  Or the time I left my microphone on when I went to the restroom. When you’re a motivational speaker like me, you have bad days just like anybody else, only your bad days happen on a stage in front of thousands of people. Starts to remind you why you don’t like speaking in public, doesn’t it?

We all fail, as much as we try to admit otherwise. And sometimes it’s even our fault. Gasp. I know – I said it out loud. We not perfect. Sometimes we mess up. I used to have a foolproof way of dealing with my goofs – cry for a long time, eat my weight in chocolate, blame as many people as I can, and go over and over the scene repeatedly in my head until the next goof comes along to replace it. Not only was that extremely not fun and unhealthy – it didn’t set a good example for those people in my life that I wanted to influence – those people who were watching how I dealt with my mistakes. And if you don’t think people are watching, you are wrong. People are always watching.  Especially those of you in high profile positions of leadership. We are paying very close attention to how you deal with your mistakes.

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Over time I began to develop a different approach to dealing with failure. While failure wears a million different faces in my life – I still go through the same steps.

  1. Assess the Situation Take an honest look at what happened and your role in it. What could have been avoided? Has this happened to you before? Should you have learned this lesson already? Was this your fault?
  2. Accept Responsibility Don’t blame. Don’t explain why. Don’t respond with “But I…” This will be VERY hard because our first reaction is to blame even if it really wasn’t our fault. Trust me when I say to rise above it. Accept responsibility for what happened.
  3. Apologize A simple sincere “I’m sorry this happened” can go a long way. People are very forgiving when they know the apology is sincere.
  4. Fix It Make it right if you can. Don’t make it worse. Make it right. Fix the situation or the problem that exists. This isn’t about feelings. This is about solving the problem. Separate feelings from what needs to be done.
  5. Learn From It What part of this could you control? Take note and do what you need to do to make sure that next time your preparation will cover it.
  6. Forgive Yourself So you messed up. Get over it. Did you really think you were perfect?
  7. Let It Go That means don’t talk about it anymore. To anybody. Ever again. No, don’t pick it up again tomorrow. Let it go. Completely. Gone. When it creeps back in shock yourself. Eventually you won’t think about it anymore.
  8. Laugh Eventually it will be funny. Laugh at failure. Then it won’t have power over you anymore. And those are the steps I go through when I mess up. I know them by heart. If they’re wrong then I’m sorry. Count this as one more mess up.

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