Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Successful Failure Pt.4 - Credibility

After introducing this series with the idea of failure as an ally (Part 1), I went on to write that failure allows us to develop persistence (Part 2) and make progress (Part 3). Here I offer a third way that failure can be to our advantage.

Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy. Proverbs 28:13

Sometimes I get caught with my hand in the cookie jar.  I am pinned down with no escape.  My guilt is evident.  I cry “Uncle.”  But more often, my failure is not so obvious.  There is an opening, whether a crack or a gaping hole, for me to escape the charge.  Fingers, after all, were made for pointing.  I can shift the blame, make excuses, hide the evidence, redefine my intention, deny my role.  These, the currency of avoiding responsibility.  My wallet is full of them.

And yet, I know how unappealing I find this in others.  It is hard to trust those who always take credit and never accept blame.  When appearance is paramount, truth and honesty are eclipsed.  When given an excuse, I usually accept it graciously.  But seeds of doubt are planted.  The more excuses offered, the less plausible they appear.  I wonder if they realize that in saving face, they are losing credibility.
I’m a retail manager at Delta Sonic, a carwash / detail shop / gas station/ convenience store /brick oven pizza / Tim Hortons / deli.  I oversee the store and foodservice.  A chunk of my job involves interacting with customers, particularly those that are dissatisfied.  Sometimes I botch this. 

Recently, we were running a special where if you spent $12 on our foodservice, you would receive a $5 gift certificate for wash or detail services.  It was well promoted, displayed on every table menu and poster sized clip signs on the building exterior. 

Then we ran out of gift certificates.  I didn’t realize until one of my cashiers asked if we had any more.  I checked the safe, which is on a three minute time lock, and told my cashier that we had run out.  By this time, the customer had already picked up their food and sat down at a table to eat.  Knowing how prominently we were advertising a promotion that we could not fulfill, I collected all the table menus, removed all other advertising, and sent an e-mail requesting more gift certificates.  I did nothing for the customer.  When she returned to the counter to ask about the gift card, my cashier explained that we had run out.  Again, I did nothing for the customers.  She didn’t seem visibly upset, but I did not take any initiative to make things right. 

Later that day, she sent a blistering e-mail to our customer service department about my indifference to her, accusing me of being more concerned about “scurrying around to confiscate all evidence of the promotion.”  Ouch.  Painful - not only in the forcefulness, but in the truthfulness.  She was right.
I know the contents of the e-mail because my district manager wanted an explanation.  I had none. I had delivered poor customer service, for which there was no excuse.  I could have easily offered her free wash passes or a handwritten $5 gift certificate.  I didn’t.  And no matter how good the food, the customer left with a bad taste in their mouth.  I made a mistake, which is what I told my district manager.   I took responsibility for my failure, resisting the urge to offer any excuse.  This was a blow to my pride, but a boost to my credibility. 

About a month later, I was the subject of another e-mail, this time related to a customer who had trouble pumping her gas.  When she spoke with me about it, I asked if she was able to pump her gas in the end.  She said she was, but thought someone should know that the pump was not acting properly.  I told her I would have someone check it out.  She appeared satisfied when she left.  End of story.  Except that she sent a scathing e-mail to our customer service department, accusing me cheating her out of gas.  She is convinced that the pump was charging her when no gas was going through the line.  This was not what I understood her complaint to be.

My district manager wanted an explanation.  I told him that what she was communicating in the e-mail was not what she communicated with me in the store.  Even in hindsight I felt like I had handled it well.  Hearing two sides, my district manager accepted my account.  He took me at my word.  I suspect that is, in part, because I have shown a willingness to take responsibility when I am wrong.  I had built of reputation of standing in the truth rather than leaning on excuses. 

After telling the disciples not resort to oaths to establish their credibility, Jesus says, “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.”  (Matthew 5:37).  Our credibility should be so well established that we need not resort to emphatic promises of truthfulness.  When the truth of our pronouncements must be verified by calling God as witness (“I swear to God”) or inviting personal harm for deceit (“cross my heart, hope to die, stick a needle in my eye”) then we are implicitly acknowledging our dishonesty.  A monosyllabic “Yes” or “No” should be adequate. 

Which brings me back to successful failure.  Failure is a testing ground for truth, an opportunity to establish my credibility.  Anyone can be honest in the light of success.  Candor comes easy when the accolades flow.  But in the shadows of failure, honestly is an act of courage.  Chastisement and blame are bitter pills to swallow.  To take that medicine may provide the opportunity to fix the failure, but not always.  What is certain is that taking that medicine will build your trustworthiness.  If I admit it when I am wrong, then I am believable when I am right.  And if I had to chose, I’d rather be known for my unwavering credibility than for my unblemished competence. 

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