When Things Don’t Go Right

Who has not fallen learning to ride a bicycle?

“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”

Albert Einstein

Life is always beautiful and successful people never make mistakes, right?! Of course not! In fact, mistakes are made more often than we would like to recognize. As Kathryn Schulz says in her TED Talk, “As with dying, we recognize erring as something that happens to everyone, without feeling that it is either plausible or desirable that it will happen to us”.

This is particularly the case if you are trying to do something new. Have you ever met anyone who learned how to ride a bicycle without falling?

So, why is it that we expect to get things right on our first go in professional situations?

I can go even further with the bicycle analogy, as a keen road cyclist, who uses clips in her shoes, I know that if you use clips, no matter how good a cyclist you are, you will fall when you try to unclip the shoes unexpectedly – and the fall will seem ridiculous to people watching, as it all happens in slow motion. It is a matter of “when” rather than “if” you will fall off your bike!

I’m not afraid of falling and, in fact, I’ve got quite good at it. I’ve fallen so many times that I now fall with my feet up so that my bicycle (a quite expensive one) does not get hurt and my body absorbs the impact instead.

I recently faced a “fall” in my facilitation work too. I was in an Oasis Whole Person Facilitation training and chose a completely different topic to my area of work to facilitate a session on. The topic was prickly and involved a lot of emotions. I did not give any warning or realise the negative impact of the material I was showing until it was too late. I soon learned that discussing that new topic would most likely unravel a number of emotions in the room that I was not prepared to deal with. I froze and some of the participants in the group had to help me get out of the hole I had dug for myself. Still, because I had frozen, I did not hear their offers of help and kept digging deeper and deeper until my time was up. Thankfully it was the last session of the day and we collectively decided for a break before we reconvened for the evening session.

During the feedback, which is part of the learning process, I realized that since you are bound to make a mistake at some point in your professional career, it is better to be prepared for it and have a pool of resources you can draw upon to amend things as much as you can.

To know which is your “automatic” response to danger – freeze, flee or fight – is a good first step in dealing with situations that can get out of control. Then, as a facilitator, have a few alternatives from the top of your head that you can use. Acknowledging the issue is always a good first step. Calling time-out and sending participants and yourself for a walk is usually a good thing to do too. That allows the energy to dissipate and allows you time to reflect and come up with a Plan B. When it is all over, rather than regretting your error, accept it, laugh about it and forgive yourself, in the end, we are all humans, aren’t we?

Last but not least, if you are embracing something new, make a risk assessment of the consequences if you get it wrong. You could either hurt yourself or hurt others, emotionally or physically, depending on what you are doing. Have mitigation actions in place to minimize the chances of things going wrong. And just to be on the safe side, have professional liability insurance, so that you will at least be financially covered for legal consequences that might arise from getting things wrong. In the case of facilitation, one option to consider is co-facilitation with a more experienced professional.

Above all, whatever you do, just don’t give it up because you have made a mistake. Embrace your mistake, learn from it and keep going!

*Note: This Blog was originally published at Oasis

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