How your fear of failure can hurt you

Written on Jun 07, 2018

By Jessica Salerno, OSCPA content manager

It can be uncomfortable to admit you don’t know something and need help. But in the long run, refusing to ask for help to avoid embarrassment can hurt you and your organization.

Rampe“People often feel in their jobs like they need to be perfect and do everything just right,” said Kristen Rampe of Kristen Rampe Consulting. “The problem with that is that we’re human, and sometimes we’re going to make mistakes.”

Rampe will talk about the complexities of admitting failure in the workplace at the July 20 meeting of the Ohio Chapter of the CPA Firm Management Association. Her presentation, “Freedom to Fail,” will cover the approach businesses take to making mistakes and the benefits that can come from those experiences. She’ll also discuss the different spectrums of failure and how to navigate the discomfort of those spaces.

“The problem is when someone is doing something where the common perception is they should know how to do it, and they don’t,” she said. “Then they feel afraid. And no one wants to show up and look like the idiot.”

Instead of admitting they need assistance, some professionals work their way through projects and assignments in hopes that no one will notice what they don’t understand. But there are serious implications in that behavior.

“We’ve got people going through the motions and doing the best they can with unanswered questions,” she said.

There is a degree of shame, Rampe said, to admit you don’t understand something and need help. Professionals are tasked with balancing vulnerability when they admit their weaknesses while also appearing confident and capable at their jobs.

But do not discount the human connection that comes with being vulnerable, she said. When you admit you don’t understand something, others will often reveal they don’t either, or be happy to help teach you. It creates a bond and a trust, and, ultimately, a stronger working relationship.

Rampe mentioned how it’s important to note there are spectrums to failure. On one end, some types of failure are commonly accepted. These are safe risks, when you try something and it doesn’t work out, nothing significant was impacted and no one is upset.

The opposite end of the spectrum is failure so intentional it’s practically sabotage. Purposefully ruining projects or assignments is something everyone can recognize is wrong, and people feel comfortable calling that out because the behavior is egregious.

“The challenge is all this stuff in the middle,” Rampe said. “What if someone isn’t trained well to do their job or is new and doesn’t have a lot of experience within the organization? Or what if a project is complex and you need to ask more questions than you normally would?”

“That middle chunk is the one that’s the hardest to deal with and deserves exploration,” she said. “What’s happening when people feel safe or unsafe, and how is your company fostering an environment where failure isn’t scary?”

If you’re considering how to implement a culture where failure is safe in your organization, Rampe said to start a group discussion with leaders on how mistakes are viewed. Those individuals set the tone, and that impacts how the rest of the staff handles themselves.

Exploring failure and asking for help is a worthwhile investment in your future growth as a professional.

“All of this is scary and uncomfortable,” Rampe said. “But when we start to get comfortable with the uncomfortable, our relationships get stronger faster. If you and your coworkers really get along well, you won’t be afraid to tell each other when something went wrong and learn from each other.”

Register for “Freedom to Fail” here.

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