What does it feel like when you’re living an almighty failure at work? Humiliating, for sure, painful, no doubt, and most likely an inevitable knock to your confidence too. It’s not fun when things go wrong, but inevitably they will at some point. How do you cope, and also, what's the best way to stop that awful feeling lingering longer than the mistake itself?
COPING IN THE MOMENT
It will happen to all of us at some point during our careers, of course, that monumental doh fail that lays bare those parts of ourselves that we all try to keep hidden – our inexperience, our mistakes, our misjudgements...
When things go wrong, some of us get hot and flustered, others defer to stress and aggression, whilst the calmest among us tend to ride the failure wave with quiet humility and are fatalistic to the consequences of things going tits up. Obviously, this is what we all aspire towards - poise during a drama, because that's what others remember. The problem is, often, we can’t predict how we’ll react.
At least, that’s the only excuse we can think of for Diane Abbot’s disastrous LBC interview this week. If you didn’t hear it, and we recommend that you do, as a lesson in how not to act when things start spiralling out of your control. In a nutshell, when Nick Ferrari started softly drilling down into Labour’s promise to put 10,000 more policemen and women on the streets, Abbot didn’t have any of the costs or figures to hand. It was a failure of momentous sorts and one that simultaneously called into question her expertise, credibility and common sense.
She stumbled, she paused and, clearly rattled and fighting in the dark, she just pulled numbers out of thin air. It's clearly wrong tactic, and proves the simple point that when things go wrong, the best option is honesty. Failing is a process, and if you can change the place it holds in your mind now, then you are well equipped to avoid a Diane Abbot when you're faced with a pear-shaped situation. Hopefully, someone has reminded her that what doesn't break you, makes you stronger and all that...
Anyway, we were discussing this entire situation and the painful discourse between policy expert and interviewer while we were trying - and failing - to log onto our emails on Tuesday morning. As it turns out, we shouldn't have been so quick to judge someone else's shortcomings because while we were knee deep in Abbotgate we’d been experiencing our own rather gigantic fail. Yes, somehow (i.e. we hadn’t checked our old email account) our domain name had expired and Wordpress had effectively chucked us in the bin. Because our host has written us off, our emails went on strike and at the time of writing this (Wednesday midday) we are barely further along the road to recovery.
How did we react? Well, thankfully we were in the company of a trusted business associate at the time, who has an air of calmness and humour about her, which meant that we couldn’t get mad at ourselves, or worse at each other. Instead, we swallowed the bitter pill with a degree of humility and only a tiny bit of swearing.
Then we did what any modern entrepreneur does – we opened up Instagram and shouted about it for the entire world to see. Well, we can’t very well sit here and dish out advice about how you, our lovely followers should cope with failure, if we can't stand tall ourselves when our digital world crumbles around us.
Here is the moral of this Abbot/Website story, well actually there are several.
1. We all fail, so best just to draw strength from that and not hide under the desk.
2. How we cope with our failure, actually in the moment, can affect how the failure continues to grow. If Abbot had just held up her hands and admitted her research shortcomings, the interview may not have ended up the publicity disaster it has since become.
3. If things are going wrong, take a moment to consider the options – and whatever you do, don’t just start making stuff up. It’s so obvious from the outside looking in.
4. Treating failure as a positive goes against everything we've been conditioned to believe. But, failure shouldn't shackle us on our ascent to success. In fact, we should as much as we can, open our arms to the possibility of failure, because when we don't, we end up risk adverse and when that happens we stop flourishing. The truth is, when we survive failure once, we go on and play jeopardy a little more often. And that risk taking and fatalism breeds confidence. And you don't need to get us started on how important we thing confidence is in the modern career mix.