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 week 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 my new client and I didn’t want to fail her, or her clients. Unavoidably, my co-leader could not make the meeting. While facing a group of people I had never met, who expected me to take the meeting and run, the 20 minutes of prep time with my co-leader didn’t seem enough.
Awkward silences are still agonizing even if you’re in the safety of your own office. The last thing I wanted was to lose credibility, so I plowed ahead with the meeting, keenly aware of the screaming crickets in the long pauses after my questions, or 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. Once the meeting mercifully ended, I thought it had been a disaster. Mentally reliving point by point, I listed all the ways I had failed. The questions I’d forgotten to ask made me blush. For two hours after the meeting, I beat myself up, feeling like a total fraud, convinced that they thought I was an amateur. I worried they would think they’d been disrespected by my co-leader, dropping them into 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 needed to get back to work. The meeting had been recorded and finally, I listened to it again, evaluating the information. And you know what? It wasn’t as bad as I thought. It wasn’t perfect, the gaps weren’t that long. The group had yielded answers to all but one question. I discovered places to improve my meeting skills.
My expectations for a meeting have shifted and I know now exactly what to do differently. This does not mean that they would have behaved differently, but I would feel better about the way the meeting went.
Sometimes there are going to be meetings where it feels stiff and formal, and there will be others that are comfortable and laid back and any number of shadings in between. Being ourselves, professional, calm and polite in uncomfortable situations goes a long way toward a positive outcome. I have had lots of mini-meetings on the phone while working in collections and telemarketing. I have great communication skills. I am not a fraud, I have been writing for decades.
Certainly, I fumbled in a few places and I noticed in the replay, that they did too. But we all remained polite and pushed forward. The meeting was not the disaster I perceived it to be initially. When the replay finished, I actually felt like I had accomplished more than I had given myself credit for.
We are 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. So I encourage you to look at whatever you might have failed at recently and look at 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.