When Talking About Failures In the Workplace, It’s All In The Response

The modern workplace isn’t well equipped to discuss employee failures or shortcomings. Across industries, we’re great at disciplining and terminating, then hiring someone new. We’re less comfortable with doing the work required to be humble and helpful partners to each other in the work we’re doing.

This is a shame. It’s a shame for the employee, who stands to learn from their honest and unintentional errors. It’s a shame for the employer, who could benefit from changing their training methods or learn about a new challenge on the horizon for other employees. And it’s a shame for your customer, whose experience will not improve unless the situation is remedied.

Discussing our failures means putting our egos aside. This refers to the employee who has experienced the failure, but much more importantly, it refers to the team who is listening and wants to offer advice.

That is the crux of the situation.

When an employee is brave enough to put their hand up and say “I did this wrong. Has anyone done this before? What did you do? Any advice?” the moment that really matters is still coming – it’s in the response.

If your response or your team’s response is judgmental in tone, blames the employee or otherwise is negative, then the chance of future employees coming forward to discuss their mistakes is reduced. The conversation is stopped, and anyone who might have had a similar experience and who has useful information is shamed into silence.

A positive, compassionate but still educational response from you or your team opens up the conversation to allow for effective brainstorming. This isn’t coddling your employees, it’s showing respect. It’s respecting them enough to know they tried their hardest, still failed and are honest in their desire to learn to do better. Belittling employees when they are trying to learn to do better is cowardly and is a characteristic of a leader who isn’t ready to lead.

Let’s be clear – we all make mistakes in the workplace, we all experience failure. Let’s not pretend otherwise, and instead, let’s be compassionate, respectful and humble colleagues in our responses, so we can all learn something new.