Good post on the Harvard Business Review site on how to tell someone you dropped the ball. It hits the important points like:
- Communicate as soon as you see danger signs
- Don’t avoid the people you are letting down
- Be direct and own that you fell short of what you agreed to do
- Work together to create a path forward
- Avoid trouble in the first place by allowing yourself to say no to requests you aren’t all in for
All these are essential to maintaining trust and connection with people you may be letting down.
And there are a couple more essential ingredients that can take this to the next level:
Don’t leave out the emotions
Notice what you are feeling when you think about telling your colleague/customer/boss that you will not fulfill your agreement. Do you feel afraid? Angry? Sad? Give yourself permission to fully experience whatever you are feeling so that you can move through it. This will keep you from being run by those emotions going forward — like that desire to avoid facing people you feel you have let down. You might even want to express what you’re feeling to those folks you had the agreement with.
And give the other party to your agreement the chance to feel their emotions, too. You don’t have to “fix” what they are feeling, but creating space for them to express whatever anger, sadness or fear they are facing in the wake of your broken agreement will allow them to move beyond those feelings, too.
The benefit of noticing and expressing these emotions is that you can both stay in connection with each other, perhaps even feeling more connected in the wake of this upset.
What can you learn from this?
It’s one thing to fall short, acknowledge you broke your agreement, express and clean up any hurt feelings, and then move forward. But to take it to the next level, dig into the root causes and learn all you can from the incident. Did you agree too readily to the assignment because you feel insecure? Does this illustrate a pattern of overcommitting? Do you have a habit of running your schedule loosely so that competing events get in the way?
You’ve already paid the price by owning up to your broken agreement, so you might as well get the benefit of learning so you can make root changes and avoid similar problems in the future.
Emotional intelligence and learning agility are the big differentiators in successful leaders and teams, even (or especially) when they miss the target.