Embarrassment facilitates learning…

The Badger, engrossed in his laptop, heard a knock at the front door. It was a couple of his wife’s friends arriving for a gossip over coffee and cake. The Badger let them in and returned to his laptop. A little later, when the coffee was ready and their conversation centred on one of the friend’s teenage daughters who’s in her final year at college, the Badger was pestered to join them. The teenager had been highly embarrassed in a recent class after acquiescing to a boy becoming leader of her group because he demanded that ‘he knew best.’  The teacher had dismantled the boy’s credibility in front of the whole class causing embarrassment in the group by association. As the Badger sipped his coffee, he was asked if he’d experienced anything similar during his career and, if so, what he’d learned from it.

The Badger, a little taken aback, described an occasion from early in his IT career, namely the first time he worked on a competitive bid during a gap between project assignments. The bid was of modest value to a new client in a new market area for the company. The compact team was led by a slippery, self-obsessed salesman who claimed to be well-connected with the client. Once the bid was submitted, there were formal presentations to the client from the different companies competing for the work. The Badger and others were tasked to attend the presentation with the salesman.

On the day, the salesman, brimming with confidence, did all the presenting, made unapproved promises, and came across as a slippery deal junkie focused solely on the client’s procurement lead who was one of the four key client people in the front row of the audience. The salesman answered all the questions himself, directing them to procurement lead and not the person who asked the question. He was oblivious to his colleagues discomfort and the clever dismantling of his credibility by the questioners. We didn’t win the work.

It was a debacle. The Badger was highly embarrassed but learned three things from the experience. Firstly, that focusing on the decision maker and their key influencers is crucial. Other than the procurement lead, the salesman had never engaged with any of the key client people in the front row. Secondly, women in business are equals and just as astute, capable, and ruthlessly direct as men. The decision maker and key influencers in the front row were women who rightly felt ignored by the salesman’s focus on the male procurement lead. Thirdly, it’s okay to feel embarrassed. It forces you to learn, change, become resilient, and develop a confidence to speak up when something’s not right.

The Badger had obviously said something that struck a chord with his wife and her friends, because their faces lit up and he was offered more coffee and cake…


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