Step Up: 6 Ways To Offer Support For A Colleague’s Fail
In addition to our own professional setbacks, we have all had close friends and colleagues who have failed to get the job, promotion, plum assignment or key client they were counting on getting.
Other than a superficial, “Gee, that’s too bad,” how can we best be allies and “success partners” for other women leaders who need the support and encouragement to try again? Knowing also what goes around comes around, it is best to know what to ask for to strategically help you move on when you have failed. Because at some point, all of us will fail.
An example of how to best support someone else in her failure is Naomi Osaka encouraging Coco Gauff after beating her in the third round of the U.S. Open. Visibly upset, Osaka comforted Gauff on her loss and invited her to the post-match interview, where she praised her efforts and accomplishments. That gesture was a win for both.
As Kristen Bellstrom writes in The Broadsheet, “It was lovely to see Osaka, who is still only 21, tap into her experiences as a young star to offer guidance and encouragement to Gauff in that moment. Of course, it was just that—a moment—and the tournament went on. Gauff won her Sunday doubles match with partner Caty McNally (they go by "McCoco"), while Osaka closed out her 2019 U.S. Open story on Monday, losing her fourth round match to Belinda Bencic.”
We may not all be capable of such a viral public gesture of support, but knowing how to uplift and network with a colleague or friend who has endured a failure reflects on us, and also lets others know how best to react to failure themselves.
This is what Take The Lead Co-founder and President Gloria Feldt calls Sister Courage. Feldt writes, “As in be a sister. Have the courage to raise the issues that need to be tackled even if they are hard. Put sister and courage together with a strategic plan and act on it and you can create a movement that will change the world.”
Take The Lead offers seven ways to support a failure and to move on positively to the future.
1. See it as a lesson. Yes, you can bemoan the loss of a win with your friend or colleague, but in your language about the event, do not just keep repeating that you are sorry and that it stinks how it turned out. Perry Hewitt writes in Quartz, “Failing once in a while is a good sign. While failure can certainly come from inattention or poor decision-making, it often is associated with experimentation and innovation. No one seeks out the sting of a failure and its repercussions, but smart professionals embrace failure as an opportunity to learn and improve.” She adds, “Make it your mission to address the elephant in the room, by acknowledging the failure and looking to understand underlying causes.”
2. Deconstruct what led up to the failure. This may not be able to happen right away. But you can talk it through, ask a lot of questions and offer some possible next steps. Hewitt writes in Quartz, “Take a lesson from the software industry, where teams conduct blameless post-mortems (BPMs) to identify systemic vulnerabilities in process, technology, and practices in order to learn and improve.”
3. Become a peer coach. Or suggest to your organization or team that you establish a peer coaching system. Let your co-workers and friends know that you are available as a sounding board and a brainstorming partner for not only this project that failed but for the future. Norian Caporale-Berkowitz and Stewart D. Friedman write in Harvard Business Review, “Peer coaching is about cultivating a network of allies that can provide mutual support in creating positive change to improve performance. When organizations invest in peer coaching systems they signal a cultural shift that normalizes talking candidly about life with colleagues. Employees gain feelings of connection, trust increases, and individuals develop insights into their own problems through helping others. Peer coaching provides opportunities for one-on-one connection and demonstrates that our inner lives are welcome in the workplace.”
4. Don’t pile on at first. You do not want to diminish the enormity of the disappointment for your colleague, by saying, “Don’t worry,” or offering bland platitudes like: It will be fine,” or “Everything happens for a reason.” But do offer the space to dial down the stress. Caroline Webb, author of How to Have a Good Day, tells Harvard Business Review, ”When dealing with stressed-out colleagues, you should think about ways to reduce their cognitive load. Don’t add to their sense of being overwhelmed
5. Be encouraging to take action. Offer some suggestions for next steps. Perhaps this involves owning up to mistakes made, making amends, repairing a relationship or being accountable to the team for the failure. You may want to suggest how to do that, mentoring your colleague on what to do next when she feels ready. But taking action after failure is important. According to Small Biz Trends, “When you have made a mistake or some failures at work, don’t just rely on the rest of your team to get it resolved. Cooperating with your coworkers can help alleviate everyone’s stress and provide a valuable learning lesson in the process.By crowdsourcing the solution, you might discover valuable tips and tricks to avoid mistakes and find new ways you can work together under pressure.”
6. Failure is an opportunity. It may feel like the end of the world for your colleague or friend but reassure her it is not, but only if you move forward quickly. We are not defined by our worst moments, but rather how we react to the moments that feel the worst to us.
According to Readers Digest,
“Failure isn’t failure if you’ve learned something in the process. So, the next time you slip up and make some failures at work — take a breath, count to 10, and try again. We all make mistakes. In fact, your boss expects you to make mistakes from time to time. What they don’t expect is for you to lie about it. “I wish my employees understood that it’s OK to make an honest mistake,” David Laplante, owner of Advanced HVAC, tells Readers Digest. “But I want them to take ownership of their work and their actions instead of deflecting or making me chase for the truth. I’ll respect you a lot more if I hear it directly from you instead of a co-worker or a client.”
Console and encourage an ally after a setback because chances are you will need the support too.
“When you’re trying to push through a roadblock, solitude is your enemy. You need support. But not from just anyone. You don’t want to reach out to the person who will turn this into a pity party. You need to surround yourself with people who are objective, positive and focused on solutions, not problems,” William Arruda writes in Forbes. “Seek out the can-do people in your network. Confide in them, and enlist them to help you overcome your obstacle.”