The other day I was doing a training on leadership communication for a large client in the communication technology industry. Among their many products and services are video and teleconferencing tools. In the course of my program, we got to the part about facilitating virtual meetings, and as I clicked to the next slide, I suddenly heard a couple of boos from the crowd. I look up and realized my gaffe: my default visual was an image of people chatting on Skype – a direct competitor.

Now I had a choice to make: I could flush beet-red, babble a string of mortified apologies, and run out of the room in humiliation, or I could turn it around and make it a “teachable moment.” I opted for the latter, and explicitly shared this very choice with the group.

“Actually, I’m glad this happened, because it allows me to demonstrate some additional strategies in leadership communication, rather than just talking about them.”

From there, I walked them through a sequence of steps, both in addressing my personal mistake, and narrating the conscious strategy behind each step I was taking in the process. I share it with you here, so that you can also learn from my mistake, and use the experience to your advantage, as I did.

First, I apologized. I had made an undeniable, objective mistake, and it was my responsibility to own it. My voice stayed even in speed and volume to indicate composure, and model the degree of drama that I believed was warranted by the situation, so they could follow suit.

Second, I briefly explained my original intention behind the mistake, providing just enough information to help them understand what happened and increase empathy. In this case, at the time I selected these images, my focus and biggest challenge was finding appropriate pictures with sufficiently high resolution so I could zoom it on the slide and still have the picture be in sharp focus for the best visual experience, which limited my options based on the images I found on-line.

Third, I offered a solution to the problem, and engaged the audience in helping me to solve it. “Let me offer this to you in return: From here on out, I will replace these two images with your products instead, and have them be the standard images when I present to other companies in the future. How does that sound?” I saw lots of head nods in the audience. Free advertising for them; who wouldn’t appreciate that?

Then I followed up with, “But I’m going to need a little assistance. Since I wasn’t able to find good, high-resolution images of (Product X) online, I need one of you to send me some. Who here will volunteer to send them to me?” Half a dozen hands shot up in the air. Now, not only had I offered an agreeable solution, but I had enrolled the client’s enthusiastic participation in helping me execute the decision. Now we were partners, sharing in the responsibility to achieve the desired outcome.

At the end of the day, one woman said, “I really wanted to see where you were going to go with it once that (competitor) image popped up, but you handled the whole situation perfectly! I’m so glad we got to go through the process with you.”

In the end, what matters most is how you respond in the moment. Keep your composure, acknowledge the error, apologize appropriately, give only as much explanation as is necessary (sometimes none), then offer a remedy and see it through. This enables you to maintain control of the situation and lead by example, which helps you to build (or rebuild) trust, reinforcing your image and reputation as a leader.

********

Do you have questions or comments about the issues in today’s post, want to know how to apply them, or how to help others with them? If so, contact me at laura@vocalimpactproductions.com or click here to schedule a 20-minute focus call to discuss them with me personally!

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