Workplace Rights

Weekly (6/14/10)

Topic of the Week  We All Fail Sometimes - Overcoming Failure at Work:

• DON'T deny.
• DO recognize limits.
• DO be more sensitive to others.
• DO accept there are things you can't control.

Most business books are celebrations of success. But failure, success's ugly twin, often gets overlooked. We hardly ever acknowledge it. Which reminds me of when a guest staying at the Hampton Inn in La Vista, Nebraska had a surprise when he went into the bathroom. There was a python in the toilet! Turns out a previous guest had brought his "pet" to stay at the hotel, the snake escaped, and the man was too nervous to tell hotel management.

Most of us are like that at work, things go wrong but we're too nervous to tell anyone. Heck, much of the time we're too scared to acknowledge the failure ourselves. I think it's time that we all adopt a healthier approach to failure. I'll offer three Do's and a Don't for thriving even after a massive screw up. For more, check out "The Lessons of Experience" by McCall, Lombardo and Morrison (Lexington, 1988).

DON'T deny. Failure has a funny way of repeating itself, over and over again. Until we learn from it. So let's leave denial behind and try to get inside the failure to understand how it happened and how it can be prevented next time. Denial is often a much easier path to take, I'll give you that. But the goal always should be to make failure more a fleeting experience than a lifestyle choice, and moving past denial is the only way to accomplish that.

DO recognize limits. Henny Youngman's famous line comes to mind, "Doctor, my arm hurts when I do this." The doctor's reply, "Don't do it." Learning your limits, and even more important, the limits of the people you work with, is a great way to reduce future failures. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for people growing, learning and testing their limits. But simply knowing when people are about to go into something totally over their head, and skill set, can prevent a lot of mistakes.

DO be more sensitive to others. Have you ever totally changed your view of someone when you heard more about the challenges that they'd had to overcome? Me too. Failure is a great way to rejoin the rest of humanity. To appreciate the challenges we all face on a regular basis.

DO accept there are things you can't control. In business most of us are control freaks. I've heard bosses ream out someone because it rained on the day that there was a big outdoor event for a customer. Yes, this person got screamed at for something totally out of their control. Don't get me wrong, I'd choose success every time over failure, but if you can ease into it and keep your wits, failure can increase the odds of future success. Don't go out and create failure, but do take advantage of the opportunity to learn everything that you can when it does strike.

Follow these tips and you won't have to snake around after a failure, you'll be able to walk proudly because you'll have learned from it.

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning Check the revised edition of his Wall Street Journal best seller, "The Boss's Survival Guide." If you have a question for Bob, contact him via


Thought of the Week

"Failure is nature's plan for preparing you for great responsibilities."

–Napoleon Hill

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