Get Comfortable With Mistakes


One day a few years ago, my daughter and I had to drive about thirty miles on county roads through rural Indiana. Snow was not falling on the day we made this drive. However, there was plenty of snow in the fields on either side of the roads and the wind was blowing. Under these conditions, large sections of these roads are often covered with several inches of snow even though no snow is falling and most of the road surfaces are clear and dry.

As we got our things together and made our way to the car, my daughter asked if she could drive. At the time, she was fifteen and driving with a learners permit. She had very limited experience driving on snow or ice.

I thought about the possible conditions we could encounter, the risks we might face, and I said “Sure.”

Did I know that the roads would be clear and dry for our entire drive? No. Was I aware that my daughter might experience some mildly challenging road conditions? Yes. Was I a little nervous? Yes.

If I knew the risk, why did I let her drive? So that she could learn while I was watching and coaching her rather than when she was alone and dealing with the situation on her own.

She did encounter several stretches of road with between 4 and 6 inches of snow. As she approached the first snow-covered section, I encouraged her to slow down and I offered coaching on how to minimize sliding and spinning as she hit the snow. She listened to and acted on my coaching – partially. As a result, she hit the snow a bit too fast, the front tires got caught in a rut that pulled the car sideways, and the car began to slide. It was rather exciting for a moment, and she got the car back under control pretty quickly.

Her approach to and handling of the snow-covered road sections got progressively better until she managed to navigate them almost perfectly by the time we reached our destination.

When you become a leader, you take on the responsibility for the actions and results of others and for helping the people you lead to learn new skills. As a consequence, you will see the people you lead make mistakes.

If you are like most of the leaders that I know, this will frustrate you. I know that it does me. And, if you want the people on your team to learn, grow, and develop, you have got to let them make some mistakes.

Watching other people make mistakes that you could have avoided is not easy to do. While I was in the car with my daughter, it was definitely not easy to watch – or experience – as a passenger. In this case, the road we took is lightly traveled, and I did not expect to encounter much traffic. In other words, it was a relatively safe environment – not a risk-free one – for her to make mistakes.  In the end, she learned a little from my coaching, and she learned more from her mistakes.

If you want to help others learn and grow, get comfortable with allowing them to make mistakes in small, safe ways so that they can learn the lessons they could never learn from your coaching.

Your Now Step: Pick a person on your team who you would like to learn new skills. In the next 24 hours, find a way to delegate a task to her that carries some risk of failure because she has not done it before. Stand back and let her do it.

photo credit: opensourceway via photopin cc

Change Your Delivery

Delivering a package

If you lead others, you are in the change business. When you are in the change business, you will eventually have to deal with resistance to your ideas, the direction you want to go, the new behaviors you are expecting, and more. Dealing with resistance is a normal part of leadership.

When you attempt to create change that involves other people, they will inevitably ask the question: “What’s in it for me?” Until they get a satisfactory answer to that question, the odds that they will stay locked in resistance are pretty high.

In order to transform resistance into acceptance, give people an answer to this question as soon as possible. When you give the answer, deliver it in a way that people see the personal, positive benefits of the change from their perspective.

If you have been reading leadership development resources for any time at all, this concept is probably not new to you. While the idea is not necessarily new, many new leaders fail in their efforts to answer the question effectively for a very simple reason – they fall prey to what behavioral analysts call “perception error.”

Perception error is the tendency most people have of misreading other people’s perspectives and motivations by assuming that other people do things or are motivated by the same things that motivate the leader. For example, I am very factual and data driven. If I am not very careful, I tend to give people far more information than they care about. When I do that, I give them what’s important to me rather than what’s important to them – I fall victim to my own perception error.

The simple solution to this challenge is to match your word choice, tone, pace, level of detail, and energy level to the person receiving the message. When you do this well, you improve the odds that they hear “what’s in it for them” in your message rather than “what’s in it for you.”

Here are some tips to help you do this more effectively:

  • Match your vocal pace to theirs. If they tend to speak quickly, then speak quickly. If they speak more slowly, then slow down.
  • Use words the they would use. For example…

    If they talk about how they feel about the change. Then talk about feelings and emotions. Make sure you smile and use more stories than facts to relay your vision of the post change situation.

    If they talk about what they think about the change, then talk about thoughts and facts more than about feelings. Stay focused on projected results, data, and value created by the change.

In any case, do the best you can to make the communication clearly state how the change will affect them rather than how it will impact the organization.

Your Now Step:  Think about a change you hope to create within your team. Now, think about a person that you need to communicate with about this change. Do they speak quickly or more methodically? Do they focus on results and facts or emotions and relationships? Practice tailoring your delivery to match them.

Five Common Responses to Conflict

Take the Conflict Confidence Quiz

In my work with clients of all kinds, I have noticed five basic types of response to conflict. I see people who are…

Conflict Rock Stars

Conflict Rock Stars are almost always in control of their responses. They know how to communicate calmly and assertively in nearly every situation. Their response seems easy and effortless to the outside observer.

Conflict Confident

People who are Conflict Confident demonstrate appropriate responses to most conflicts. They respond in ways that lead to resolution rather than to escalation. Even though they might feel some unease or discomfort in conflict,  they engage confidently and lead towards resolution.

Conflict Quesy

The Conflict Quesy person either gets a knot in their stomach or a little flash of anger that causes them to be a little too passive or a little too aggressive. In fact, they might switch between to0 aggressive, too passive and confident responses in the same encounter. In general, they do pretty well in conflict, and they respond in ways that feel like they will lead to resolution. However, they are often confused and frustrated when their responses unintentionally escalate conflicts.

Conflict Chickens

Conflict Chickens run from conflict almost every time. They avoid confrontation and conflict to the point that they fail to engage even when needed to resolve the situation. Their failure to engage often leads to escalation rather than deescalation because the issues causing the conflict remain unresolved.

Conflict Coercers

Conflict Coercers are on the other end of the spectrum from Conflict Chickens. They often dive in to conflict and push for resolution in a way that inflames rather than calms the situation. They sometimes think they have resolved a conflict when they drive a Conflict Chicken to silence or out of the conversation.

I did not derive these categories from a sophisticated and comprehensive statistical analysis. So please, don’t over read them. They are simply built on my observations from working and talking with lots of people about their responses and approaches to conflict and then observing how the conflicts develop and end.

It seems that most people are in the Conflict Quesy category. There are also a pretty significant number of Conflict Chickens and Conflict Coercers. There are fewer Conflict Confident people, and fewer still Conflict Rock Stars.

The good news is that no matter where you start, you can become Conflict Confident. With enough study and practice, you could even become a Conflict Rock Star. The growth in your conflict resolution skills begins when you learn to accurately diagnose and read conflict situations and how to respond appropriately — confidently — to the conflict.

Conflict Confidence is a learned skill. It is not a natural talent.

Take the Conflict Confidence Quiz

Assume Benign Intent

Assume the positive

My anger was rising. Every time he spoke, I grew more frustrated and irritated. I could feel my blood pressure rising, my face flushing, my lips tightening, and my shoulders hunching forward. I knew that I was furrowing my brow and that my voice was growing flatter and more menacing with each verbal exchange.

While I did not physically fear for my safety, I did feel threatened. I felt ambushed, cornered, and criticized. I was not happy. My greatest desire was to make the conversation end — quickly.

And, I was falling prey to a common problem in conflict resolution.

I was responding to my fight-or-flight response rather than responding logically and rationally to what was happening. I was withdrawing into my own perspective without objectively hearing the other person’s.

I was assuming that he had the intention to verbally attack me. When I heard his words through the filter of intentional attack, I could not find the focus and ability to remain objective. I became almost totally self-protective, and I went on an attack of my own.

Was his voice volume elevated? Yes.

Was he leaning forward? Yes.

Was his face flushed? Yes.

Did his tone sound like aggression to me? Yes.

Did his body language look like aggression to me? Yes.

Did he intend to be aggressive? I didn’t know.

Assuming a person’s intention is a pretty dangerous thing to do. In reality, we don’t know the other person’s intention unless they tell us. In most cases, we only know what we assume to be true about their intention based on our past experiences and our own emotional filters.

The leverage point for better self-control lies in recognizing that we have the power to choose our assumptions.

In the example above, I could have assumed that the other person was passionate about the topic rather than angry with me. With that one shift in perspective, I would have changed my focus from self-preservation to problem solving. I could have listened better and kept my responses more controlled.

By making the assumption of benign intent, I could have moved the conflict from escalation to resolution.

In this case, sadly, I did not make the switch. I chose a negative interpretation, and I escalated right along with my partner. The conversation did not end well.

Fortunately, we spoke again on a different day, and we had a more positive outcome. It ended well, but it took far too long to get there. My contribution to the excessive time investment started when I assumed that he meant to attack me verbally.

It turns out that he did not intend to attack me. He was merely frustrated over the situation, and I saw it as an attack.

The fight-or-flight response that causes our bodies to respond under the influence of adrenaline is a wonderful thing when we face a physical threat. And few of us face a physical threat in most conversations.

Choosing to assume that the other person has benign intent can help you to control your response so that you can be the one to move towards resolution by showing empathy and understanding rather than anger and judgement.

Assuming benign intent could prove to be wrong. The other person might actually mean to verbally attack you. If that is the case, you can escalate if necessary. Even in many situations where the other person intends an attack, you can deescalate the conflict by making the positive assumption and responding kindly.

The assumption of intended threat almost always leads you to respond in ways that escalate even minor misunderstandings. The assumption of benign intent can give you the time and self-control you need to respond in a way that resolves the conflict.

If you want to do everything that you can do to move a conflict conversation towards resolution, remember to assume the other person has benign intent.

(Check this post on Why Conflicts Escalate for further insights on this topic.)

People are a Package Deal

Nearly everyone irritates me to some extent. Even the people close to me — my wife, my kids, my friends, and my professional colleagues — irritate me from time to time.

All of them have body gestures, word choices, and tones that get under my skin because I see them as rude, impatient, inconsiderate or pushy. Everyone, and I do mean everyone, frustrates me some of the time.

And I’m okay with that.

The reality is that I probably frustrate, irritate, and aggravate them to some extent as well. As I think about it, probably is the wrong word. Let me rephrase that last sentence.

I definitely frustrate, irritate, and aggravate the people close to me.

I can say that I irritate them with a certainty because I am a human being, and people are a package deal.

A few months ago, I was speaking with my friend and colleague JJ Brun, and he said that he had come to the conclusion that when he was in any kind of relationship with a person, he had to accept the frustrating and challenging parts of their behaviors if he was going to enjoy the positive parts.

JJ said he realized that the good and the bad in a person are inseparable because people are a package deal. The phrase is pure JJ. And it’s brilliant.

I’m okay with the fact that people close to me sometimes irritate me because I choose to focus on the good things that they bring to the relationship rather than on their annoying behaviors. I realize that they are a package deal — just like me. I want them to accept me with all of my frustrating, irritating and aggravating habits. So, I have to accept them as well.

The next time you find yourself focusing on a negative attribute that another person brings to your relationship with them, shift your focus and look instead at the good they bring.

Remember, people are a package deal.