Managing errors - Part 4: Energy-Management

A safety culture in which the learning potential of error is widely recognized cannot be lived if managers fail to lead themselves. The personal reaction to errors that become known is the key to success. But how can this be achieved if you yourself are under stress?

If we as leaders have decided to live a culture in the company that uses the mistake as a learning opportunity, this commitment first of all places a demand on ourselves that should not be underestimated. We have to address the question of how we respond to mistakes when our batteries are dead.

Perhaps you've noticed the following about yourself. Whenever you are irritable or a bit thin-skinned on the road, you show a specific behavior pattern. The trigger for this could be a mistake that someone else has made and that makes you uncomfortable? Of course, far be it from me to impute a general irritability to you as a reader of this blog article. On the other hand, anyone who is reflective with him or herself knows that life, and especially work as a leader, holds enough situations and constellations that can challenge our mental defense system. Such situations can also be mistakes that happen in one's own area of responsibility. They are classic stressors that need to be managed.

One person who has dealt with such challenging moments is Taibi Kahler. An American psychologist who has studied the behaviors of people who are in an out-of-balance state, when they are stressed. He has translated his scientific findings into a model (Process Communication Model) that allows us to acquire the skills on how to cope with such situations. Kahler demonstrates that unbalanced states, especially when they last for a prolonged period of time, are rooted in a lack of satisfaction of psychological needs. This includes things such as the recognition of an achievement, the acknowledgement of our opinion and thus the approval of our personal values, or the unconditional recognition as a human being, just as we are. This also includes the longing for action and the desire for quiet with the need to be alone. And others more. It goes without saying that we need many of these to some degree in order to live a balanced life. Kahler's work, however, points to a clear hierarchy of needs in each and every one of us. According to this, not all needs are equally important to us. Even more exciting about Kahler's research is his scientific evidence that our reactions in an unbalanced mental state always occur in the same way, and thus predictably. And that they correlate with the failure to satisfy a psychological need that is important to us. He thus proved why we always show the same pattern of behavior in stress.

What happens to us when we don't get our psychological needs met?

Well, we become dysfunctional, experience negative emotions, and find it difficult to see things rationally. We lose the ability to cooperate. Our reactions in such situations are always connected with a devaluation of a person - either the other or ourselves. The devaluation of the other person is of particular importance in a lived error culture. It is therefore worth taking a closer look at it. One thing is certain: it undermines mutual trust, because we express the expectations, we have of others emotionally and thus inadequately. In these demands on the other person, blame is always interwoven in various forms and shapes. Pay attention to what happens to you in such situations! You have a tendency to react in one of the ways described below. These are the options in their overly clear expression:

  • Your reaction is from above in the form of an attack. This is wrapped up in your idea that the other person is too stupid to do things right. "How stupid do you have to be to make a mistake like that!"
  • Your pejorative response is from above, also in the form of an attack. This time, however, you argue differently. You experience yourself as being opinionated and insist that a serious and earnest completion of the job is important in the company. "Would you please make the necessary effort at work! I can still expect that!
  • Your response is a cool and tendentious distancing of blame that is intended to hurt the other person. "Great mess you've made. Well, making mistakes always has unpleasant consequences. You'll have to deal with that yourself!"
  • Your response is a detached blame game about being able to hold yourself harmless. "If you make mistakes, that is your problem alone. It has nothing to do with me."

However, you may also have expectations of yourself in situations where you, as a manager, are confronted with mistakes made by your employees. Namely, when mistakes made by others cause you to feel insecure and push you out of your comfort zone and into the role of victim. "I feel so sorry for him! What did I do wrong to put my coworker in this difficult situation?" This response does not undermine the relationship with the other in the same way as the four described above. We can therefore leave it aside in this consideration. Nevertheless, it is a as well a challenge for the manager who tends to react in this way, and it makes sense to deal with it.

What this means for dealing with the error.

Any form of devaluing the other person torpedoes a living safety culture based on trust. This is especially true when managers do it. Why would I go to my boss to hear that I'm not okay, that he or she is cutting me off, or that they won't promise me support? Would I go there to tell them about the difficulties I've had at work or about my own mishaps that have happened to me? What good are the noble resolutions of wanting to use error positively in the company's mission statement if, in everyday life, managers with empty batteries are unable to maintain the necessary relationship of trust. Safety culture is not made with appeals and nice intentions. It is carried by managers who not only know why they have to de-taboo and use the error. But by supervisors who are also capable of leading themselves. In such a way that they have the necessary energy not to fall out of an appreciative position, towards the other, at the slightest gust of wind.

Self-control and energy management

Make sure your batteries are always charged. Actively pursue the question of what psychological needs are important to you personally and, as a leader, take care to get them satisfied. The Process Communication Model has an individual profile ready for you that shows you which charging stations you should go to in order to satisfy your psychological needs. In this way, you provide your personal bulwark against unwelcome falls from the I-OK-You-OK position. Because if you can no longer maintain eye level with the other person and you see yourself holding others in low esteem or covering them up with accusations, these are alarming signals. They do not promise anything good for the safety culture in the company. Ask yourself what kind of environment you need to learn from your mistakes. Fear? Disrespect? Guilt? An emotional or a factual debate?

The Process Communication Model (PCM) can tell you precisely what is important for you to remain on the appreciative eye level with others for as long as possible. And it presents you with your personal early warning signs that stress is on the way.

If you are interested, get in touch with me.