Trouble with being a trainer, is that when you mess up, you mess up in front of an audience. Like I did today. A situation arose and I handled it really, really poorly. I'm still not sure what I could have done differently, but I know that what I did was perhaps the least effective choice that I had. And of course, there were lots and lots of eyes watching me. It was a situation in which I couldn't stop to address, I had to just swallow the error and then work doubly hard to overcome the effect that it had had.
During lunch, I had time to think a little bit about it. As people came back into the room, I watched them take their seats and felt that I didn't really deserve to be in front of them training. We all knew that I'd handled myself poorly, they did, I did.
I took a breath and said, 'Let's talk about the elephant in the room.' I went on to say that I knew I had handled the situation poorly, that I had been struggling to think through what happened to come up with some solutions. We were all there, they all looked as if they had independant minds so I asked them to suggest to me what other paths I could have taken given what had happened. As a result we had several moments of honesty, kindly stated, and then I went on with the rest of the training.
It all ended up OK, I suppose. I don't like having to publically say, 'Gosh, wasn't I bad?' I suppose no one does. However I believe that I would have done more damage if I'd just pretended it didn't happen and go on. For one, avoidance and denial wouldn't lead me to change - and I have to change, that was clear today. I have to be way, way, more prepared for the unexpected and I have to be ready to find new solutions to new problems. It's been a while since, during a lecture, I've had something thrown at me and that experience hadn't handed me an immediate 'ah ha, I know what to do'.
So, I've some thinking to do. And, of course, my 'apology muscle' just got one heck of a work out. I'm guessing it will be sore in the morning.
Dave, I think acknowledging your error to the group was likely the best solution. Not only did you take responsibility for doing whatever you did, but you modeled for an entire audience the fact that one can own a mistake publicly and not die. The only way we learn is by making mistakes, and this world becomes more honest and connected when we talk about it.
Dave i aspire to be as brave and true as you. Your writing helps me towards that way.
It takes a lot of guts to do what you did. I've had to do it on a one-on-one basis with people that I support from time-to-time, and that's difficult enough to do...but it's necessary. It reestablishes trust. And if I'd been a member of your audience, I'd have been really impressed at how vulnerable you'd made yourself, in the interest of making sure that everyone left with a feeling of having all the "loose ends" tied up. Not a lot of people would have done it. Give yourself some credit. :)
GirlWith TheCane said it perfectly. Amen.
Dave, you did what had to be done and you did it in a proactive manner. It would have been easier to ignore "the elephant". We don't like to be wrong, whether in words or actions. But easier, as we know, is usually not the best way to deal with things.
You showed as a professional and as a person, that we all make mistakes, we need to acknowledge them and figure out how things could be done better. And by asking for help, I'm sure the people appreciated the honesty on your part, and the ability to help you be a better trainer. It takes a strong person to ask for help. Many others would have just gone on in a similar situation.
And Dave, it's a long weekend. Enjoy it knowing you did the right thing.
ditto what GirlWithTheCane said! Dave, your ability to do what you did - mess up, acknowledge it, apologize, ask for help, try to do it differently the next time - is what it means to be wise human! Thanks so much for being a true teacher, and 'walking your talk'. Now, be as gentle with yourself as you are with others who are honestly trying to grow, and have some fun!
I was in the training you're talking about. We all have moments that we reflect on critically like this. It was good the way you acknowledged the elephant in the room, but really I think that most of us had forgotten about the moment you're talking about, since the training overall was absolutely fabulous. Thanks for the great work you are doing!
Amelia (the girl with the glasses in the front row)
Thanks for modelling how to acknowledge a mistake and ask for help in a mistake.
I'm found it to be helpful to do/see public apology and constructive group processing, both when I've been a group member and a facilitator. I'm a disabled person who has also worked in disability community.
My experience in disability community has been that internalized ableism can lead us to believe we shouldn't make mistakes, but the reality is we all do it (and facilitating a group is a high-risk activity for making interpersonal mistakes). I've seen lots of people with disabilities learn from ableism and popular culture that the correct response to making a mistake is to loudly and fervently deny it, get defensive, or shut down. I think part of this is institutionalization in the form of disability professionals feeling like we have to pretend we don't make mistakes, and if we do, that they don't affect people. But I think when we can acknowledge and deal constructively with mistakes, we model better ways to deal with mistakes and also become more approachable and steer away from abusing power.
I really appreciate this post. I know that I feel very yucky when I make mistakes like this, and it takes me awhile to move on. I hope that sharing this experience will be useful to you.
It (your addressing the elephant) would make me trust you; without addressing the elephant I might just right off everything you might have to say. Also, reminds me to listen actively, to process what I am hearing because not all thinkers/trainers are perfect and that is a good thing to know!
A perhaps unintentional lesson in all of this is that it is okay to ask for help if you are struggling with finding a right answer.
Amelia, I can't tell you how much I appreciate your comment! Really! It's good to know that the training wasn't ruined by what happened. Thanks.
It takes courage to do what you did and it models an openness and transparency that is so needed in human services.
In my own experience, while it's nice when a teacher or other authority figure gets everything right and it all goes smoothly the first time, it has been even more valuable and educational when an authority figure has erred and then publicly acknowledged their error and done what they could to make things better.
It models so many important things — honesty, integrity, accountability, respect for others regardless of where you and they are in a hierarchy, that it's okay to be wrong and it's okay to make mistakes...
Painful as it is, I think actually nothing builds formal relationships (professional, colleague, client-service provider) as much as a well-placed apology. Trusting that someone else will do things well is one thing; trusting that they will make it better when they don't do things well, and take responsibility for it- there's a really solidly trustworthy person.
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