All Articles Leadership It’s OK to fail, but don’t burn your bridges doing so

It’s OK to fail, but don’t burn your bridges doing so

2 min read


SmartBrief is partnering with Big Think to create a weekly video spotlight in SmartBrief on Leadership called “VIP Corner: Video Insights Powered by Big Think.” This week, we’re featuring Susan Schwab, who was U.S. trade representative under President George W. Bush.

Trade negotiations can mean sitting endlessly in rooms with officials from other countries, trying to bridge gaps of language, culture, economic goals and diplomatic intrigue. And sometimes, says former U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab, those days of conversation end up being fruitless — and potentially embarrassing to publicly announce.

But the breakdown didn’t occur with yelling and anger, she notes, and then a funny thing happened: “So at 3 o’clock in the morning, we parted company and did so on sort of sad but warm terms, as opposed to a blowup.  And under these circumstances, the sort of political pressure cooker was as high as it gets.  It was a very tense and stressful next day. … And six months later, we closed the deal. ”

The lesson, Schwab says, is that negotiations will get heated, and they may not always succeed initially, but you’ll generally be forced to work with these people again, and so blowing up at them will lead to many more failures than one failed, but civil, negotiation.

“[I]f you’re going to have a hissy fit during a negotiation — and I’ve had those during the course of a negotiation because sometimes as a leader, as a manager, you have to have a slightly theatrical event to get a point across, but — you need to do it in a way that doesn’t break crockery or doesn’t burn bridges,” she says.

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