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Posted: July 30, 2009

The 100 percent solution

6 steps to creating your own success

Scott Halford

It’s surprising to me how many people are willing to put the keys to their success into the hands of others. It’s certainly understandable. I have.

It's a nice convenient excuse in case you fail.

Most of us willingly place the blame for failure on others or outside circumstances. It’s comforting to know that if you fall short, it’s not due to your own humanness – it’s because of someone or something else. Yet, how many of you are willing to do the same when you are wildly successful? How many of you leap at the chance to share the credit when a project, a new product or a brainstorm brings mind-boggling success?

It's only human to be a little selfish.

You might concede that so-and-so had a little something to do with the outcome, but generally, you want the boss to notice, promote and grant a raise to one person: you.

Think about that for a moment. You want to take all the credit and none of the blame. But you can’t have it both ways if you truly want success and fulfillment. Either you’re responsible for all of your success and failures, or you’re not responsible for either one.

I’ve discovered that the day you take full responsibility for both sides of the equation is when things add up for you.
Renowned poet and author, David Whyte said at an international symposium on emotional intelligence that, “We’re most loved for our vulnerabilities and our honesty about them.”

So, even though we all want to disown our foibles, we are actually hurting ourselves when we do that. Competence, excellence, meeting deadlines, beating budgets, showing consideration, collaborating and the like are half of whom you are. The other half is made up of shortcomings — being late, the inability to see the big picture in a particular instance, dictatorial moments and so on.

The beauty in this second list is that it contains some of the other reasons people love you, support you and want to help you succeed. It’s a wonderfully freeing realization to know that the world will grant you success on occasion because of — not in spite of —your vulnerabilities and your failures. 

Of course, that knowledge doesn’t allow you to abdicate responsibility for self-improvement. It does, however, call upon each of us to accept the whole package — all of ourselves. There are few things we distrust more than a person who appears perfect, who has it all together. As “anonymous” once so astutely put it, “Having it all together is like eating once and for all. You can’t do it."

So, what does taking full responsibility look like and how do you do it?

Let’s examine the way you communicate, since that process alone accounts for a good deal of your success and failure in the world. Here’s the crux of the entire process: Whether giving or receiving communication, you are 100 percent responsible for its outcome. Invariably, people balk at this notion of 100 percent responsibility for the outcome of communication. After all, communication is a two-way street so it seems like we each should shoulder 50 percent of the burden.

But, half-time responsibility will get you nowhere fast. One of the most common objections I hear is, “But what if the person I’m talking to isn’t a very good listener?”

That's a fair question. You cannot be responsible for the way the rest of the world listens or communicates. You can only be responsible for your own communication abilities. Your success depends on how well you send and receive messages. So get good at both.

Send success

Many people believe that another person’s bad listening is causing them to experience some degree of failure. That’s an antiquated way of thinking that can impair your own success.

Reframe the entire situation and create personal success.

Begin by understanding that the listener’s ability to do what you need is dependent on how well you get your message across. Successful communication is not what you say, it’s what your listener hears and to which they respond accordingly. Communication is not successful until you know your listener has heard what you intended her to hear – when your intent matches your impact.

There are strategies you can use to make sure that your intent matches your impact:
-- Use clarifying questions frequently throughout a discussion with someone.
-- Ask what she thinks to see if she’s on the same page as you.
-- Ask if you’re making sense.
-- Concede that you know you don’t always get across what you want. Your admission of vulnerability will frequently create empathy in the listener who will be more eager to help you communicate your message accurately. A little bit of humility can change an entire situation from bad to good.
-- Adjust your communication according to your audience.  You would not explain your job responsibilities to a colleague in the same manner as you would to your 6-year-old daughter. It sounds so simple, and yet, most of us don’t do it, except in rare instances. Instead, we communicate in the way that feels most comfortable to us, not our audience.

Receive success

The other common question I get is about the flip side of communication — the receiving end. The question is, “How can I be responsible for how badly my boss communicates things to me? He/she has to take some responsibility.” First, if you don’t understand what your boss or someone else is saying, and you deliver a bad outcome because of the miscommunication, it's your neck. It doesn’t really matter who communicated poorly, what matters is that you were supposed to deliver and you didn’t.

You can only guarantee your own success when you take 100 percent responsibility.

The key is to be committed to understanding what the communicator intended you to hear. Here are some simple and very effective ways to overcome someone else’s poor communication. Pick one or all that work for you:
-- Ask more questions of your communicator. Tell him you aren’t sure you understood completely and repeat your understanding of the message.
-- Write down bullet points and then go through them together to make sure that you didn’t miss anything.
-- Take responsibility for the confusion. It might make the hair on the back of your neck stand up to let that bad-communicating person “get away with it,” but remember the goal: personal success. A power struggle over communication isn’t going to advance your goals one inch. Say, "I want to get this right for you, so let me go through what I understand. Tell me what I'm missing."

These suggestions are effective because you take responsibility for the way you like to receive the information, not making an attack on the way he’s giving it.

Taking 100 percent responsibility is difficult. It takes practice to reframe communication, to take responsibility for the whole enchilada. It takes guts to stop an aggressive communicator to tell him to slow down or to ask clarifying questions. After all, you don’t want to appear as though you’re not up to the task. You want to appear competent, intelligent and ready to act. However, the cold hard fact is that you will not appear competent, intelligent and deliver an appropriate outcome unless you take responsibility for the entire communication. Only then can you execute properly.

Get good at it the whole picture.

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Scott Halford is the president of Complete Intelligence™, LLC. His new book, "Be a Shortcut: The Secret Fast Track to Business Success” is available now. Contact Scott at

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