Why is fallibility so challenging in the workplace?
First article by Zoe Koskinas – I am sure she would appreciate some support and feedback. This article has also been published HERE
In a perfect world accidents do not happen, people do not make mistakes, and humans do not suffer- but we do not live in a perfect world. All you have to do is take a second and count how many insurance policies you have in your life. It is not uncommon for the average human to have car insurance, health insurance and/or life insurance.
When we take out these insurances we accept that living itself is not a guarantee, every moment that we are alive, we are fallible in what we do. Human life is not only finite but the everyday mistakes of humans test our attitude to learning.
So why is it that we go about human/personal growth within our jobs as if fallibility is a weakness and create no solicitude for mistakes? When anyone who has achieved anything great, anyone who has changed the world, has at some point made a choice to embrace their flaws instead of fighting them.
Richard Branson an entrepreneur, who is a recognised authority when it comes to life and business strategy said “You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over” When considering this, do we embrace risk and adventure in our private lives but not in our work lives?
When there is an incident in the workplace, it is often associated with the person being inevitably stupid, lazy or unable to handle pressure. This is the type of discourse that paints a picture of fallibility as a weakness. Which in turn embeds an ideology of perfectionism, an ideology that understands its own success by the absence of human error and therefore promotes the fear of uncertainty.
Take children for example, recently some schools have banned playing tag or any running games in the playground because they are fearful the children might clash into each other and hurt themselves.
This begs me to ask the question- is it that the more we protect ourselves, the more fallible we become?
If children are banned from running around the playground, how can they learn the joys of being a kid? To look out for one another, to work in teams, to say sorry if we “touch or bump into another human”.
If these children are bound to nonphysical activity, then how do we attempt to address that one-quarter of all Australian children, or around 600,000 children aged 5–17 years, that are overweight or obese? When our children will be too afraid to put their joggers on.
As we grow into adults in the workplace, if we fear the uncertain, we are less inclined to communicate with others on topics that challenge the status quo, the type of conversations where development happens. This therefore makes us reluctant to take risks, to learn and to grow.
Think about all the times we acted in a particular manner or presented to colleagues in a way that was “safe”, or gave answers to questions anticipating what the other person wants to hear. Or hid a safety incident because it would reflect badly on the “Zero LTIs”
If we were to attend a job interview and we were asked the cringe worthy question of “What do you think your biggest weakness is?” Are we inclined to respond with; “I am human, I am fallible” or “Oh you know, I tend to be a perfectionist sometimes.” This is just one of many examples where we want to portray to other people, especially professionally or in relationships that we have it all together, almost as if we are superman or wonder woman.
We naturally act this way as humans because we have come to believe that if we portray ourselves as faultless, that people will accept us and treat us with greater respect. If this is the case, why is it that psychologists associate perfectionism with mental health disorders yet some of us associate with it, as if it is admirable, as if we are invincible and anyone else must be weak?
Which employer would want to hire someone who never makes a mistake?
It may help employers to be clear, that most of the great achievements have been caused, not by people being fundamentally good or bad, right or wrong, strong or weak, but by people being fundamentally people.
To understand this, we should first ask ourselves the question; how many times do you want to be wrong before you finally accept that you’re not flawless?
I have come to realise that at the same time I have made a mistake, is exactly when the wisdom and self-awareness is growing inside of me. I have made errors, I have caused hurt, I have cried and made people cry, I have misjudged myself and situations. But the only short-coming in this, is to think that I won’t continue to make mistakes and I can only hope to not repeat the same mistakes.
Because if fallibility didn’t exist then we would get everything right the first time. There would be no trial or error, there would be no mistakes and everything could be done with seemingly minimal effort. That would take away any sense of achievement that we would ever feel as well as most of the meaning from our lives.
So as I continue to live my life as an imperfect human, it is when I am in my moments of great success and pride, is when I will remember that sitting inside of me is the vulnerable self that is waiting to make her appearance at any time.
It is in this space that I have learnt that my mistakes have shaped and contributed to my achievements and success and I must embrace the fallible side in me as much as I embrace the wisdom in me.
I encourage you to ask yourself, since when did you want to stop being human?