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Be humble. Be vulnerable. Be wrong.

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As Business Analysis professionals, we go through a mental activity of “popcorning”. We process information, and sometimes it’s slow processing – like when the air popper is just warming up and a few kernels pop, with prolonged delays between each pop. Then, as the ideas start flowing, it is rapid-fire and impossible to control the speed or direction; you just have to go with the flow until everything is popped and you have a full bowl to sort through.   

Outside of the normal human reaction to being wrong, what is someone’s professional stance on being wrong?


(Un)Fortunately, this is how my mind constantly works. What’s particularly interesting is how this occurs when I am processing something outside of project-work, when my brain is reflecting on something in the background. This happened recently based on another podcast episode. In the podcast, the co-host reflected on her dislike for having to admit to being wrong. This seems like a normal human reaction; no one likes to be wrong. My background mental processing then started to kick in for the next few days. 
Outside of the normal human reaction to being wrong, what is someone’s professional stance on being wrong? For example, no one wants to hear their doctor’s claim to an inaccurate diagnosis. No one wants to hear when their banker made a mistake. (Even mistakes in our favor are found and rectified later.) No one likes it when their restaurant server or bartender messes up their order. I think that one of the few professions in which it is okay, and possibly even necessary, to acknowledge mistakes or lack of understanding is business analysis. It’s like we have a free license to be imperfect! 
Think about some of your core job responsibilities as a business analyst. You ensure understanding the business problem; you gain consensus from stakeholders; you participate in the solution design; etc. In each step of your job, you have opportunities to bring people together and align understanding. Oftentimes, in order to do that, the business analyst is the brave one in the room, willing to admit he/she/they don’t understand the problem statement. He/she/they don’t follow the current state business process. He/she/they desire a higher-level understanding of the proposed technical solution. In many cases, the business analyst likely does understand all of this; the business analyst though is responsible for making sure that EVERYONE understands. That’s where admitting you don’t know, you don’t understand, or you were mistaken is part of the job. Sometimes, a business analyst has to humbly acknowledge ignorance (or maybe even feign it) for the greater good. A business analyst takes an intentional hit to the ego for the success of the project. 
This was the easy part of the “popcorning”. The slower (more difficult – even agonizing) part came with more self-reflection once the bowl was full. I have no issue with this role on my team; I silently volunteer for this task. At the same time, I have been given feedback about being more confident and about being less self-deprecating (even as recently as this week). To me, I never took it as exhibiting lack of confidence – if anything, I was demonstrating the highest level of confidence. Unlike others, including the podcaster, I was okay with admitting that I was mistaken or didn’t understand; I had an end goal. Wasn’t that obvious? 
A wise peer mentor of mine helped me work through it. He acknowledged he does the same thing; he reflected though that we always need to be conscientious of how we do it and the audience with which we do it. Obviously, demonstrating lack of confidence or error with our executive sponsors is a non-starter. At the same time, he had some good reminders for approaching different scenarios. Like a true BA, he recommended that our words and intent be action-oriented: “I’ll dig into that a bit more. You’re right. How about this instead? Teach me how to do this.” He kindly reminded me that there are ways for us to continue our practice of gaining information and alignment without falling completely on the sword or being the class clown. 
So, how humble are you? How vulnerable are you? Are you willing to admit (for yourself and/or for the sake of the team) when you are wrong or when you don’t know something? If so, what are your tips and tricks for approach? Feel free to email me. My BA practice is ever evolving, and I love to learn from others. 

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About the Author:  
Koryn Anderson

Koryn Anderson enjoyed a couple of careers before finding her ultimate one. She has been a business analyst for more than 10 years and is currently a Lead Business Analyst at Baird. She is passionate about the BA discipline, has her CBAP® certification, is Past President of the Southeast Wisconsin Chapter, and is the current Communications Director for the Global Chapter Council.