Mistakes, Anyone?

August 24th 2015

Don’t you hate that feeling when you discover you’ve made a mistake at work – especially one that affects someone else? We’ve all done it: forwarded an email containing stuff you don’t want most people to read, misspelled a partner’s name in a widely-distributed collateral piece, forgotten to include an essential document in a proposal. 

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Here’s what the wisest among us know: mistakes are going to happen. They are inevitable. If you’re not making mistakes, you’re just not trying hard enough, and you’re probably living a dull professional life. 

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So. You’ve made a mistake. What now? From experience, here’s my advice:

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  1. Keep your perspective. Ask yourself, “Did anyone die?” If not, take a deep breath. Clear your head. Decide what happens next.
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  3. Confess quickly. If the mistake affects someone else (i.e., if you have hurt or inconvenienced or embarrassed someone), tell them what happened immediately. Often, the aggrieved party will know of your mistake before you do and will, undoubtedly, alert you to it. Either way, you need to take charge of the situation.
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  5. Apologize. Tell the person how sorry you are about the error and that you will fix it if you can. Then try like hell to fix it. If you can’t fix it, tell them why. But for heaven’s sake, communicate – starting with the apology.
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  7. Apologize effectively. Do it in person unless they’re on the other side of the country. At least pick up the phone. That’s right: stop typing that “I’m sorry” email, text, or tweet. Don’t even think about it. Here’s why: if you’re really sorry, you need to be sure the other person understands that and can see it in your eyes. It’s the best way to restore trust between you.
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  9. Learn from this. Take a post-drama minute and figure out what you can learn. Do you need to be more thorough? Do you need to get someone to proofread your materials? Do you need to zip your lips more often? What can you learn so you don’t make the same mistake again? It’s ok to make a mistake, but it’s not ok to make the same one repeatedly.
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Mistakes are part of professional life, but you can’t be defined by them. It’s how you recover and what you learn that matters most.

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communication, happiness, professional development

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