onegeeklogo6Some of you may have noticed that the weekly formatting of One Geek To Another has been a bit… non-weekly of late. In fact, for the past few months, it’s been utterly absent. There have been a plethora of reasons: I was revising my novel, working on a series of short stories for a game company (The Adventures of Little Yoshida), traveling to New York to act as a guest at a convention (I-Con 29), and juggling the impromptu beginnings of a new fiction experiment (The Shattered Glass Project).

Regardless, I have not kept up with One Geek’s original weekly format, and I apologize for that. Even more so, I apologize for not coming to you–One Geek’s readers–and letting you know about what’s been going on. But there is a bright side to every situation.  These challenges–and my poor handling of them–have given me the perfect opportunity to talk about an important etiquette topic: How to “Fail” Gracefully.

No matter how hard we try, each of us will eventually come to a situation where we are not able to meet our obligations, be they to friends, family, work or others. While the situation is universal, handling it properly is not something we’re usually taught how to do. Being unable to meet obligations, even if they’re self-created, is something we usually associate with shame, inadequacy, laziness, poor planning and failure (hence the title of this article). Because of these associated negative emotions, many (myself included) have a difficult time dealing with situations where they’ve either over-obligated themselves, have run into unexpected challenges, or simply cannot do what others are expecting themselves to do. We procrastinate about dealing with them, telling ourselves that we’ll be able to “catch up” or that “no one cares”. Or we ignore or hide the fact that we’re not meeting our obligation, and hope that no one will notice (or at least that they won’t call us on it.) We can even become defensive if approached about the situation, turning on those who dare to ask about why we aren’t following through with what we’ve agreed to do.

Dealing with being unable to fulfill your obligations in a polite and upfront manner may not save the situation. It can’t necessarily counterbalance the fact that you’re not ready, willing or able to do what you’ve agreed to do. But, in many circumstances, it will make the situation easier to deal with than avoidance techniques, procrastination or doing a hurried or shoddy job. Here are some simple suggestions for how to deal with “failing” gracefully.

1) Attempt to recognize the potential issues early on and communicate with those you’re obligated to.

Your deadline is approaching like a speeding freight train, and you’re no longer sure you can meet it. The project your boss gave you is turning out to be way more complicated than either of you realized. You’ve had health issues, technology issues or other unexpected obligations come up that are impacting your ability to fulfill your duties. You’re finding that a recreational obligation is simply no longer enjoyable for you. Or, after a few months, you realize that the weekly obligation you’ve set for yourself is turning out to be a lot more work than you’d anticipated.

Communicate these challenges or situations as early as possible. By laying the groundwork early on, you avoid blind-siding others with your inability to fulfill your obligation. They may have potential solutions you haven’t thought of. They may have additional resources or time for the project. Or, you may be able to simply step aside or modify your obligations in a manner that works better for you.

For example: I’ve found that the weekly format of One Geek was a constant pressure for new output, and when I was faced with other writing projects, I didn’t always have time or energy to come up with a new topic every week. Also, I’ve not received as many “write in” topics as I’d anticipated, so using those every other week just wasn’t working. I think I’m going to try a bi-weekly format, which will mean one “write in” article a month and one “essay style” article. I’ll do that for a few months, and see if that format works well for myself and my readers. I’ve written to the various sites that guest-host One Geek To Another to let them know about this format change, and if they have any issues with this, we can deal with them up front, rather than me stressing about it alone in my home office and them not having any idea what’s going on.

2) Determine whether you can achieve an altered goal and propose that.

Sometimes this will mean determining how much additional time or resources you need to achieve the original objective. Maybe you can achieve the goal, if you have an additional 2 weeks, or if you had someone who could take care of the folding and stapling so that you could concentrate on writing the newsletter.  If you believe you can complete your obligation with additional resources or an extended deadline, be up front about that and ask for the help you need.

Other times, this might mean adjusting your end goal to produce a smaller amount or a shorter time-period of obligation. Perhaps if your obligation is volunteering or work-related, you can find a replacement for yourself that will be suitable to those you’re obligated, or can stick with your obligated duties long enough for them to find a replacement (and potentially aid in the transition/training.)  Maybe you can’t make 14 dozen cupcakes for the bake sale, but you could do 7 dozen and someone else can help make up the difference.

3) When all else fails, apologize and accept the consequences gracefully.

Sometimes communication and readjusting goals just aren’t going to make any difference to the situation.  If you’ve been hired to do a certain task, and you just can’t or don’t want to do what you were hired to do, even the most kind-hearted employer is unlikely to be willing to continue to pay you to do something you aren’t doing. Sometimes leaving someone in a lurch will affect your relationship with that person. But dealing with it honestly and up front is unlikely to make the situation worse than just not following through or doing a shoddy job at whatever it is you’ve obligated yourself for.

Approach the individual in question, express that you realize you made X obligation, but that because of Y you are not going to be able to fulfill it. Apologize, and ask if there’s anything you can do to help minimize the impact of the situation (but be careful that this doesn’t open you up to additional obligations that you don’t want or can’t fulfill!) Be understanding if they’re irritated, and take the consequences as gracefully as possible.

In conclusion, it’s always best to try to fulfill the obligations you’ve been given or set forth for yourself, but when circumstances arise that make that difficult or impossible, it’s better to handle the situation diplomatically and in a straight-forward manner, than to procrastinate, ignore it , or hope no one will notice that you aren’t fulfilling your duties as agreed upon.

Have questions about how to handle a geeky situation? Need advice on social etiquette relating to games, movies, fan groups, conventions or other geek-ful settings? Write us and your question may get answered in one of our future One Geek to Another columns!<!– document.write( '‘ ); // –>