(When) things fall apart

When you do anything that has high stakes, something will go wrong.

You might get a flat tire on your roadtrip, send the wrong registration link to an important event, or forget a detail that’s critical. More than likely, you’ll feel terrible. Almost certainly, people will complain. Here’s how to respond.

Actually, this happened to me recently. We did an online event for gobs of people. Most of the gobs couldn’t login. They let us know. A few were kind;) Here’s my observation of how to respond when things fall apart.

Be prepared AND adaptive

These aren’t opposites. You should be prepared. And, you should know that a problem will come up. A problem doesn’t mean you weren’t prepared. The response to a problem isn’t, “I failed” it’s “I’m ready for this.”

Don’t hang your hat on perfection. When things go wrong, it’s better to make it personal than to make an excuse. 

Rule Number One: Expect something to go wrong

Before you start. Huddle up and say this:

“Today, something will go wrong. The goal isn’t that nothing goes wrong. How we respond says as much about us as how we prepared.”


When chaos strikes

As you work with your team to problem solve (i.e. put out fires), you should do two things:

  1. Breathe. “It’s okay. We are ready for this.” It might help to physically look in each other’s eyes, put a hand on a shoulder. We’re in this together.
  2. Get perspective. “Before we problem solve, let’s remember our mission. Let’s put this in perspective of what is going well.”
  3. Work on the first thing first. “There is one problem we need to solve right now and it’s _____.” Don’t over-correct. Just make it right. Don’t respond to the emotion, respond to the actual problem.

As you respond to people who are impacted

  1. Empathize. Say “I’m sorry.” Acknowledge their disappointment.
  2. Own it. This is where you tell them the problem and what you’re doing about it.
  3. Make it right. When you’ve empathized with them, you’re better able to solve the problem they are experiencing.

Things will go wrong. Plan on it. And then respond like a boss.

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