Ever since I was a child, Spiderman has been my favorite superhero. Of course, this isn’t unusual. What six-year-old boy doesn’t want to scale walls, swing from buildings, and shoot webbing from his wrists? During a recent visit to my parents, my daughters discovered my childhood fascination with this web-slinging defender of justice and have insisted that we watch Spiderman cartoons together ever since. So, over the past few months, I’ve been waking up early on Saturday mornings, brewing a cup of coffee, and planting myself on the couch with my three girls to watch episodes of The Ultimate Spiderman on Netflix. To be honest, it’s become one of the highlights of my week. I have also been reminded of some Spiderman facts that I had long forgotten.
For example, although Spiderman is affectionately referred to as “web head” by his friends, he is actually quite smart, and there are at least three brilliant communication strategies that we can learn from him. These strategies are as follows:
1. It’s perfectly OK to share our imperfections with others—especially if we’ve learned from them.
Likely, you will remember that Peter Parker acquired his super-spidey powers during a class fieldtrip where he was bitten on the hand by a radioactive arachnid. But, what’s often forgotten is that after acquiring his enhanced abilities, Peter didn’t immediately transform into the hero known as Spiderman. Initially, he had no clue what to do with his powers and for a time, sought money and fame by putting his newfound abilities to work in the wrestling arena. Following one of these money making stints, Peter passively watched as a thief hurried past him carrying an armful of stolen goods. Although he could have easily used his superhuman abilities to prevent the theft, he chose not to get involved. Unfortunately, this same thief went on to rob and kill Peter’s beloved uncle. Although Spiderman’s beginnings were less than glorious, Peter Parker learned from his mistakes and vowed to never passively allow evil to prevail again. His painful past is what directed him to become the life-saving superhero and what led him to become one of the more popular comic book heroes of all times. People everywhere can relate to Spiderman’s less than perfect history.
Similarly, when leaders share their blunders and missteps tactfully and at appropriate times, they provide a connection point that others can latch on to. Mistakes are a normal part of the human experience, and people are most strongly influenced by leaders with whom they can relate. Since none of us can associate with perfection, when leaders hide all of their flaws it hinders positive communication from taking place. Alternatively, leaders who tactfully share stories of their own failures humanize themselves and pave the way for honest discussion within the organization.
2. Don’t let fear hold you back.
The thing I love most about Spiderman is that in spite of ongoing blunders, he doesn’t let fear hold him back. As Spiderman swings from building to building, it’s inevitable that at some point his web-shooters are going to malfunction, placing him in the awkward situation of having to devise a plan to prevent himself from plummeting to the ground. Yet in spite of these frequent mishaps, Spiderman keeps swinging anyways. As you and I connect with others, it’s an inescapable fact that our communication skills will let us down. It’s both normal and natural to occasionally:
- Become flustered and tongue tied while giving a speech
- Get embarrassed in the middle of a conversation, sweat profusely, and turn flush
- Stumble over words
- Not know what to say next
This fear of embarrassment is so common that not only has The Book of Lists, placed public speaking as the number one dread, those surveyed ranked it five levels higher than the fear of death. If we are going to communicate well, like Spiderman, we must learn to lay aside our fears and communicate anyway.
3. It’s important to know how to recover well.
Finally, with all of the mistakes that Spiderman makes, he has become an expert at recovery. If one web-shooter fails, it’s not a problem, because he has a second ready to go. If that one fails too, he might grab on to a nearby pole or tree to stop his fall. Spiderman is a quick thinker who uses his quirky sense of humor to brush off mistakes and always has a backup plan available. Since communication mishaps are inevitable, it’s imperative for us to become well versed in the art of recovery too. One simple way of doing this is by verbally acknowledging that an error has taken place.
When caught off guard, flustered, or unsure of what to say next, one helpful strategy is to freely admit what is happening. This is far better than trying to hide something that is plainly evident to everyone else in the room. Making a statement such as, “I’m flustered right now and really don’t know what to say,” or “I don’t feel well prepared to answer that, but am willing to give it my best shot,” not only provides us with the opportunity to catch our breath, but it also helps put those around us at ease. When openly acknowledged, awkward situations become less uncomfortable for everyone, which allows us to speedily regain our composure.
As you can see, in addition to being incredible entertaining, there is a lot that can be learned from Spiderman. In fact, while writing this post, I realized that I’m continuing to use and learn these skills myself. As a marriage and family therapist, one of my strengths is recovering well. My job requires that I be OK with talking about issues that are uncomfortable, and I’m quite good at both recovering and helping others regain their poise. On the other hand, openly sharing past mistakes is more difficult for me and is a skill that I am gradually learning to put into practice. Just last month, I was asked by my wife why I didn’t reveal more of my past during a church membership class we attended. She encouraged me to speak up by reminding me that it would have added value to the conversation and that likely, there were other members in the group who would have benefited from what I had to say. Of course, I’m fortunate to be married to an amazing woman who is cheering me on in my journey of becoming a better communicator and leader.
I share this because I want you to know that while writing these posts, I’m continuing to travel down the path of learning and growing myself.
Now that I’ve shared part of my story, I’d love to hear from you. Which of these skills come easy for you and which ones are more difficult? Also, I’d love to know how I can best support you in becoming a better communicator. Are there any topics of special interest that you’d like addressed in the future? I look forward to continuing our discussion in the comments below.