Like most people, I like to find a groove and pretty much stay there. When I feel moved to do so, when all the stars align just so, maybe learn something new. And, like most people, I’m comfortable sticking to a pretty sedate routine. Then suddenly, you find yourself catapulted into a situation that you don’t feel ready for.
Such was my life a while ago while helping out a new client. We’d planned to co-lead a meeting, by remote, with her clients. Although I’d been forewarned that my co-leader might be unable to make the meeting, I chose to believe otherwise. My co-leader was also a new client. I didn’t want to fail her, or her clients. as predicted, my co-leader failed to make the meeting. Facing a group of people I hadn’t met, their expectation for me to take the meeting and run made me realize that 20 minutes of prep time with my co-leader had not been enough.
Awkward silences are still agonizing even if you’re in the safety of your own office. Not wanting to lose credibility, I plowed ahead with the meeting, keenly aware of the screaming crickets in the long pauses after my questions, and sometimes, a total lack of answers. What do you do when no one chimes in?
Most of us want to leap right into that empty space and fill it up. But if you just sit tight, count to fifty, someone else will. Thankfully someone eventually began speaking. The meeting mercifully ended and I thought it had been a disaster.
I mentally relived it, point by point, listing all the ways I’d failed. The questions I’d forgotten or failed to ask made me blush. For two hours after the meeting, I beat myself up, feeling like a total fraud, convinced that they thought me an amateur. I worried they’d feel disrespected by my co-leader, dropping them in the hands of someone they didn’t know.
But that’s what we do, isn’t it?
We stretch into unknown territory either by need or design (sometimes unwillingly) and in our heads we want (expect?) the meeting to go perfectly. Perfect intro, perfect delivery, perfect responses and in the end: perfection. Even if the whole meeting was perfect but one thing, we replay the one thing. Instead of applauding what went right, we make ourselves sick over what went wrong.
With a project deadline looming, I went back to work. I listened to the recorded meeting with fresh eyes. And you know what? It wasn’t that bad. It wasn’t perfect, the gaps weren’t that long. The group had yielded answers to all but one question, and I discovered places to improve my meeting skills.
My expectations have shifted and I learned what to do differently. This doesn’t mean that they would have behaved differently, but I’d feel better about how the meeting went.
Sometimes there will be meetings that feel stiff and formal, and others that are comfortable and laid back with any number of shadings in between. By being ourselves, remaining professional, calm and polite can go a long way toward a positive outcome. I’ve had lots of mini-meetings on the phone, my communication skills are great. I’m not a fraud, I’ve been writing for decades.
Certainly, I fumbled in a few places and noticed in the replay, that they did too. But we all remained polite and pushed forward. The meeting wasn’t the disaster I perceived it to be initially. When the replay finished, I actually felt more had been accomplished than I’d given myself credit for.
We’re all in various stages of learning new things. It is so important to give ourselves grace when things don’t go as perfectly as we had hoped. We even need to give ourselves permission to fail. As hard as it might be to admit, we learn a lot in those moments. I encourage you to look at wherever you may have failed recently and see it from another angle: What did you learn? How would you do it over? How would you improve? I’m going to keep all of this in mind at another meeting next week!
Will you share with us about your “biggest failure” and what you learned? I’d love to hear from you.