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Why You Need to Blog Publicly About Your Mistakes

Big_mistake When most of us make a big mistake, the last thing on our minds is "Oh, I should blog about this and make my embarrassment public." No, I think the normal human reaction is to move far, far away from our screw-ups.

Some of us, the more reflective types, may have private discussions with our most trusted confidantes about what happened. Or we may write in our journals and then hide those journals in a drawer somewhere. But few of us would have the courage to write about what we've done on our blogs, and even fewer would be willing to do it if the mistake involved someone famous. But Nancy White is no ordinary person. Dave Pollard explains:

I was really surprised, then, when one of those people, Nancy White, confided that she was really distressed because she'd unintentionally hurt someone -- a participant at her presentation at Northern Voice. I would normally not blog about such a personal and painful occurrence, but since it's all been put in the public record by the participants, I figure it's OK to talk further about it. It's actually causing me as much distress as it's causing Nancy.

Here's what happened:

  • Nancy encouraged everyone at her session to "be fearless" and draw on craft paper and post on the walls of the meeting room something about a subject (the subject happened to be Ice Cream) that meant something to them, and to post on their blog their drawing, instead of just writing about it. The purpose of the exercise was to understand how visualizations add meaning and value to information, and to open ourselves to the additional personal understanding that comes from expressing oneself in pictures instead of just words.
  • One of the participants, the actress Meg Tilly, found the exercise personally devastating, and wrote about it on her blog. Here is a photo of her drawing, just to give you a bit of context.
  • Nancy was really distraught to have caused Meg such pain, and she wrote an apology on her blog.

What happened here is instructive on a lot of levels. First is the obvious fact that Nancy was brave enough to post on her blog what some people would consider a big professional mistake that endangers her reputation. Rather than making her look less professional, though, she comes across as even more on top of her game. Here's someone who's well-known in her field who's willing to share what she learned from a bad experience and to apologize for any pain she caused. This in itself is wonderful.

On the other side of that equation, though, is Meg Tilly--someone even more well-known than Nancy who was willing to publicly share how difficult it was for her to do the exercise in the first place. This gave Nancy the opportunity to learn that she had made a mistake and to respond in a public forum about it.

Think about how this might have played out without blogging. Meg may or may not have informed Nancy of the situation, which means that Nancy might not have known that she caused pain in the first place. And certainly there would have been no opportunity for the rest of us to learn from this experience because it would have all happened behind "closed doors."

There are a lot of people who worry about the level of transparency and self-revelation that blogging seems to open up. It's seen sometimes as "self-indulgent" or dangerous to your professional reputation. But what I really see is that it allows us to be more reflective practitioners. In fact, I'd argue that the very structure of blogging with the ability to link to others and to comment on blog posts, creates a culture of reflective practice. It provides a forum for us to "think out loud" and to receive feedback and coaching from others, the very essence of being a reflective practitioner.

For me, what happened with Nancy and Meg is a model for what all of us should do. It's this kind of experience that really helps us grow as professionals, no matter what our occupation or field of interest. It's what I'm going to aspire to.

UPDATE--Please be sure to read Nancy White's response in the comments section. In it she provides additional context and models how new insights develop from blogging and the process of reflecting on our practices as professionals.

Photo via William Hartz


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Sorry to disagree, but I think Nancy should have asked permission before reading anything out loud.

If a student/learner wishes to keep information private, or at least refrain from discussing it in a public forum, that wish should be honored.

At least, that's my opinion.

Hi Diane--I think that's what Nancy was saying that she'd learned from the experience--that she needed to treat the process of sharing more gently than she had.

What I was trying to emphasize was the learning process and how blogging about this enabled Nancy to reconsider what she'd done so she could plan for how to do it differently in the future. So I'm not agreeing with how she handled it originally (although I could have made the same mistake myself). I'm more highlighting the learning that took place.

Hope this clarifies it for you--and thanks for the feedback.

It looks like I need to add a little context - because I think it is important for me to understand my practices - including my mistakes - as well as I can, and as I read others thoughts on them, I both learn something new and realize I have not shared all the details. Readers may be assuming they knew what happened, how it was set up, etc. based on Dave's and my blog posts. None of the posts fully explain.

I gave people explicit options of NOT putting their drawing on the wall. I asked them to have no fear, and I invited their participation, but told anyone if they were uncomfortable, that was OK. Draw and don't put it on the wall. Or if you get paralyzed drawing - I have another option. I gave out pre-printed mandalas to simply color if anyone did not want to draw. A number of people took me up on that option. No one was forced. I fully recognize we all have our blocks.

I made it clear that anything put on the wall was fair game for photography and flickring. I had people volunteer up front to take the pictures. People were told what the plan was. Meg chose to put her picture up. She chose to step beyond and I deeply appreciate her courage. I can't speak to why she decided to or how it felt. She owns that. I wish she had responded to my email to her so I could better understand her perspective, but so far I haven't heard from her. So there is still much we all don't know. As usual! :-)

My mistake was, after reading the text and realizing something was up, turning around too fast. I did not see Meg communicate to me (as I understand it from Dave's report, it was a non verbal look - I did not see nor hear it) and so I did not respond as I would have if I had taken another beat and paid MORE ATTENTION to another human being. In my rush to wrap up the workshop (tick tick tick goes the clock) I made light of something that I should not have. I even MISSED that it was so profound (hitting self on forhead - you know, I can be SO STUPID). Part of this is the context of Northern Voice. There is a LOT of playfulness and irreverence. I should not make assumptions, nonetheless. That was my critical error. I messed up. No question about it in my mind.

So Diane, you write about permission to read out loud. By posting on the wall, rather than keeping one's image to one's self - I took that as permission. Seeing this raised here by you, Diane, helps me see that being more explicit about the process will be part of the exercise the next time. Again, this goes to our practices about assumptions.

The second thing I noticed in my head as I reflected on your post, Michele, was that you talked about this being perceived as a professional mistake. It is really funny. I never thought of it as a professional mistake. I never even thought of the whole workshop as me, positioned as some sort of expert or professional, but as a member of this community we call "northern voice" giving voice to what I've been thinking about. Northern Voice has always welcomed the personal, the learning edge, rather than the "expert" perspective. That's why I go. So the mistake to me was a human one, a personal one. Until you framed it as "profession", I had not even considered it in terms of my "professional" standing. You have helped me see that I don't experience my life as demarcated between my professional and my personal life, so thus I don't experience my "reputation" that way. But others do, it seems.

Another thing learned!

So thanks to both of you, both for helping me articulate the practice more clearly, and to examine my own self perceptions. Sorry for the long-winded reply.

Hi Nancy--thanks so much for further elaborating on your thinking and what happened. Your response actually underscores my point that blogging in a public forum helps all of us gain new insight into our experiences and assumptions and I appreciate what you're modeling here.

Reading your response I can see that 1) the whole story didn't come across to me, so I appreciate the clarification about the instructions you gave to the group and 2) my referring to what happened as a "professional mistake" reveals as much about my own beliefs about what happens in facilitating groups, as anything else.

Like you, I see facilitation as a very personal activity where first and foremost we're dealing with people and their feelings. But I also think that whenever we're in those settings, somehow people see us as "expert" in some way and that expectation can sometimes make it difficult for people we're interacting with us to see these as human connections. In other words, I often get the feeling that there's a belief that it's a reflection on my professional skill if I somehow misread or mishandle a situation when I'm facilitating. Maybe that's my own hang-up, but I've had people become outraged if I don't handle the situation the way they felt I should have, as though I should have been perfect because I was "leading" the group. So I guess I always see it in terms of being a reflection on my "professionalism," at least as others seem to define it.

Anyway--I sincerely appreciate you sharing your story and your thinking in all of this. As I said, how wonderful to have you modeling exactly what I wanted to highlight for people.

I would like to thank all concerned for putting this discussion online because it has been a very interesting one for me. I have long maintained that we are more open about our mistakes in order to gift learning opportunities to others. I also think it helps us on our own reflective journey:

But as a health professional, I am told by my professional body not to admit to anything because of litigation risk. So that makes it very difficult to be open about my mistakes, especially those made in clinical practice.Even the educational institution looks at everything in terms of risk management. So for it to be 'OK' to admit to mistakes in these enviornments needs a huge culture shift.

Sarah, this is a huge barrier in many professions and communities. How we talk about "failure" (which sometimes simply means we did not get what we expected)is a huge challenge. I think from a cultural standpoint, sometimes we have challenges having these conversations with our own selves!! :-)

Michele, you reminded me of another challenge I'm always facing: what hat am I wearing. Am I providing a presentation? Am I facilitating? Am I a provocateur? Am I performing? I have a friend who says he is very comfortable being a participant and a facilitator at the same time. I find it very challenging because I sometimes get SO INTO participating, I miss cues I would HOPE I'd see as a facilitator. I think this is part of what happened at NVoice. I was so psyched to see this room full of people - many self described geeks, drawing and discovering something in that process that I was swept into it. And then other blinders creep up on me.

Ah, so many things.

Now, though, I think it is time for chocolate and turning OFF THE MACHINE!


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