The Chocolates That Never Were
How to Overcome Breakdowns Without the Drama
CEO & Founder
“I’m looking forward to partnering on what our contract will look like for next year,” you say. “But before we go any further, I just need to know…do you love those Godiva chocolates as much as I do?”
“Sorry?” the client replies. “What do you mean?”
“Oh,” you say, a little flustered. “It’s just…those chocolates my office sent over. I wasn’t sure if you had…um…”
“Well, I’ve got to tell you, I do love chocolates,” says the client, good-naturedly, “but unless my assistant has been running interference, I’m afraid I never got any chocolates from you all. Probably for the best! Anyway, about the contract…”
Halfway through the meeting you discretely rattle off a text to your colleague: “Client didn’t get chocolates? Did u send? Plz confirm!?!”
“Chocolates?? No—I was supposed to send?”
BREAKdown or BreakDOWN
One of the first rules of business—and of life, perhaps—is that not everything goes to plan. Sometimes it feels like nothing goes to plan! And even the best laid plans can go awry.
In my experience, there are two ways to react to these inevitable hiccups and setbacks.
The first way is to treat the breakdown as a “break” in the trajectory of what we intended. In other words, there is simply a GAP between the intended result and the actual result. Period. That’s it. We had a goal in mind, we set our sights…and it did not go as expected – there was some break somewhere. We got a flat tire, colleagues got into a disagreement, the presentation was not ready, we did not have a clear agreement, etc. The only question now is, how do we close that gap and achieve the intended outcome? Every undertaking—whether a business project or a personal relationship—involves such “breaks.” We set a target, and we missed the target. It’s just the fact of the matter. Happens all the time.
The second way is to breakdown when confronted with the setback – to begin a downward spiral that leaves you disheartened, upset and stuck. This happens when instead of looking to see how to close the gap between the intended result and the actual result, I make the sinister addition … “AND, shouldn’t be this way.”
It’s a story actually – a story I’m telling about what’s happening here. What happened: we fell short of the stated goal. My story: “This is terrible.” “This is a disaster.” “This is unfair.” “I don’t like this one bit.” “It’s always this way.” “It’s my/your/his/her/their fault.” Problems arise from the story that we tell about the breakdown, not the breakdown itself.
When the inevitable setbacks remain in the factual domain of breakdowns, we stay clear-eyed as we analyze the breakdown, see what’s going on, and jump in and fix it, without injecting any drama into the situation. When we make our breakdowns into stories, we often get lost in the haze of that interpretation, in the drama of the story we are telling. That makes the effective solution harder to access.
No Drama BREAKdowns
So how do you powerfully deal with breakdowns without breaking down? Here’s a step-by-step process for when you hit those setbacks:
First, NAME the breakdown.
The first step is just naming what happened.
In our story from above, you would follow up with the colleague who forgot to order the chocolates. “Hey, we clearly had a breakdown here, and I want to address it with you. I was under the impression that the client had received the gift, and it was definitely an awkward moment for me in there. I want to make sure we get on the same page so we can avoid that situation in the future.”
Second, articulate the INTENDED OUTCOME.
The second step is getting in tune with what was really at stake in the situation.
In our story from above, that would sound something like: “For me to really be effective in having that kind of sales conversation with a client, I need to feel confident. And part of my confidence comes from knowing that we are doing the little things to show the client we care. I know chocolates seems like a little detail—but that kind of personal touch makes all the difference in expressing our gratitude and nourishing the relationship.”
Third, identify the FACTS and drop the STORY.
The third step is to make a distinction between what really happened and what we imagined to be the case.
In the story from above, you may have left the meeting with a generalized interpretation that the colleague is not capable of doing his job well, that he “always” drops the ball. Is that so? Can you point to other instances where the ball got dropped? Can you point to instances where the ball wasn’t dropped? Is it possible that your assessment is broader in scope than what the facts actually suggest? (It often is. Not always, but most of the time.)
Fourth, STRATEGIZE and MOBILIZE.
The fourth step is to strategize and mobilize towards addressing the fundamental care outlined in step one, now that the setback has occurred.
In our story above, you and your colleague could think together about what new overture with the client might produce that feeling of going above and beyond for them. For example, it may be the same box of chocolates with a witty/self-deprecatory note that adds an even further personal touch: “Ok, I admit it. I ate the chocolates before they went to the mail!”
Fifth, debrief WHAT not WHY
The fifth step is figuring out what happened in this breakdown so that it doesn’t happen again. Notice what I said: figure out WHAT happened, not WHY. The WHY conversation gets a lot of love—it feels like a more enlightened, thoughtful way of having a conversation.
Don’t get me wrong, WHY is a tremendously powerful question that has its place. But when it comes to assessing day-to-day breakdowns, it distracts. Get really curious and specific about WHAT exactly happened here.
In our story from above, you originally messaged your colleague in the office WhatsApp group about the chocolates. But in your debrief, you find out that he missed that message entirely. He views the WhatsApp group as strictly for office banter, sharing, and celebration. Besides, he much prefers receiving requests like that via email. And so, you reach an agreement. You agree to make requests via email as much as possible, and he agrees to set a calendar reminder to scan the office WhatsApp group once a week for any requests that may have slipped through.
Think to your current work situation: where are you encountering dramatic problems? And where might it be possible to shift your perspective and render those same problems as factual breakdowns instead? Doing so should instantly give your more access to more action, and more action will yield bigger and better possibilities.