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Original Post Dennis Collins

Tips for Tough Talks in Meetings: Communicating Failures

Transformative business conversations can be tough – especially when all does not proceed as planned.

And in today’s rapid-fire digital environment, with collaboration tools that enable organizations to operate virtually around the clock and across the globe, frustrating moments when projects don’t meet objectives are inevitable.

Sometimes, in business, we and our teammates just plain fail. But failing – even repeatedly – can be good, maybe great for companies seeking growth and innovation. Because what seems like failure on the surface today may actually be a sign of tomorrow’s success.

Don’t just take our word for it. Remember what Thomas Edison said about success and failure?

Thomas Edison

Or, if Winston Churchill is more to your liking, he had a similar outlook on the relationship between success and failure.

Winston Churchill

Indeed. The key to transforming failure into success is attitude, according to emotional intelligence guru Travis Bradberry.

“Your attitude when facing failure is just as important as the actions you take. Using failure to your advantage requires resilience and mental strength.”
– Bradberry asserts in a recent column for Inc. Magazine.

3 Critical Attitudes to Maintain in the Face of Failure

1. Perspective

Bradberry says those skilled at rebounding after failure typically cite something they did— a misguided course of action or a specific oversight— as the cause of falling short. In contrast, those who handle failure poorly tend to blame disappointing results on their shortcomings, such as laziness, lack of intelligence or some other personal quality. The trouble with this approach, he explains, is the implied lack of control, which can make people wary about future risk-taking. In turn, this reluctance to take risks can stunt growth and innovation.

2. Optimism

In his column, Bradberry mentions a British study that found 576 serial entrepreneurs were much more likely to “expect success” than entrepreneurs who gave up after one failure. This research, he suggests, demonstrates that optimism propels successful people forward by preventing the feeling that “failure is a permanent condition.”

3. Persistence

Bradberry calls persistence “optimism in action” and elaborates that persistent people “shake off” failures and keep going. “Persistent people are special because their optimism never dies,” he says. “This makes them great at rising from failure.”


Bradberry also believes communication is a powerful catalyst in transforming failing into succeeding. How you admit your failures to colleagues and customers is what makes advancing with them to success possible.

3 Essential Elements to Include in your Next Conversation About Failure

1. A Posture of Immediacy and Transparency

After making a mistake, don’t waste time hoping no one will notice, Bradberry advises. Fess up as soon as possible and clearly take the blame. The reason for this immediate transparency? Someone else noticing your error is inevitable. “When someone else points out your failure, that one failure turns into two,” he writes. Teammates assessing the situation may attribute your silence to “cowardice or ignorance.”

2. A Position of Ownership

Owning failures can enhance your image, Bradberry says, as you demonstrate accountability and integrity. When talking to teammates about missteps, always be honest, accurate and focused on your part in the process, not the role of others or the particular circumstances. To do otherwise, he counsels, can make your useful explanations sound like empty excuses.

3. A Plan for Rectifying the Present and Improving the Future

Owning failure also means owning consequences. “Instead of standing there, waiting for someone else to clean up your mess, offer your own solutions,” Bradberry encourages in his Forbes post. “You should also have a plan for how you’ll avoid making the same mistake in the future. That’s the best way to reassure people that good things will come out of your failure.”

Admitting failure in business meetings – whether in person, online or over the phone – is a tough talk to have with colleagues and customers at any time in any place. But the right mix of attitude and action can transform what at first may feel like crushing defeat into lasting triumph in the long haul.

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