What to Do
When You
Trip Up
probably already surmised: we do not mean to
imply that in a great partnership great equals
perfect. In fact, imper fections are what make
great partnerships dynamic. To err is human,
and so are curiosity, creativity, discovery, growth,
strength, and con fidence. Mistakes are the events
that make us learn and grow.
The dark side of our imperfections, of
course, is that sometimes they destroy. They can,
and often do, bring a happy, productive partner-
ship to a bitter end. Some onstage stumbles can
be worked out in rehearsal or smoothed over in
later performances, but an egregious collision
resulting in permanent injury can bring down
the curtain long before the choreographed end
of the dance.
Dance directors often coach novice dancers paralyzed by
anxiety onstage to “attack your fear.” This is the dark magic
found in most resilient relationships: great partners recognize
their own fear and guilt and use them as sources of strength and
growth. They turn human failings into collaborative virtues.
This lesson outlines some of the common mistakes indi-
viduals make in partnerships, along with how they can be over-
come. Here is a useful thing to remember: many stumbles in
partnerships happen in slow motion. They creep up on you
slowly, often with little warning. When you find yourself stum-
bling, it often means you tripped a good ways back. On the
other hand, your partner and constituents may see your mistake
when it happens—in time to catch you before you fall flat on
your face. A great partner gives early warning and is there to
help you recover.
Stumble #1:
You Make a Mistake
Mistakes are a part of all
relationships—with spouses, friends, and business partners.
However, even a false step as serious as betrayed trust can be
transformed into renewed partnership commitment when effec-
tively managed. Great partners view partnership recovery as an
opportunity to heal a broken relationship.
Here are four moves we have found effective in recovering
from the pain that you’ve caused.
Show Your Humility
Healing communication begins with humility—an expression
of authenticity. Speak for yourself, not your unit or company.
Apologize in the first person singular—“I’m sorry”—not “All of
us in the operations group are sorry.” Let your partner witness
your genuine concern. Look your partner in the eye. Be forth-
right and direct. Things went wrong; your partner was disap-
pointed. Acknowledge it honestly and frankly, and be ready to
learn from it and move on.
Express Sincere Empathy
Healing communication includes expressions of sincere empa-
thy—words and actions that let your partner know how much
you appreciate his pain and predicament. It does not mean you
must wallow in bad feelings. Empathy communicates under-
standing and identification. Show that you care. Understand ing
your partner’s concerns from his point of view will only enhance
your own understanding of the partnership.
Exhibit Strength and Agility
Healing communication also includes showing strength and
agility—words and actions that tell your partner she is dealing
with someone who has what it takes to correct the problem.
Partners want can-do competence, attentive urgency, and a
take-charge, “I’ll turn this around” attitude. Any temporary loss
of confidence can be overcome if your partner observes your
potency and nimbleness in problem resolution. Remember,
con fidence is restored by what you do, not by what you promise.
Demonstrate Loyalty to the Partnership
Healing communication includes expressions of loyalty—the
after-the-fact experiences of your partner that say, “I will not
abandon you now that I have regained, I hope, your confidence
in our relationship.” It is the opposite of taking for granted. It
is about continuous care and frequent follow-up. Pick up the
phone and call your partner later to find out if everything is
back to normal. Send your partner a note. If your partner knows
you remember and are still concerned, he will come to realize
that the bad experience was an exception.

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