For the Mistake-Makers
Did you ever see yourself as this tall figure, standing on top of the highest mountain on Earth, looking down at all of the poor, unfortunate people who aren’t you? The air you breathe is fresh and clean because you’re the only one breathing it. The sun is always shining. The sky is always clear blue, just like the water, which you cannot see because you’re so high in the sky. Your only wish is that everyone could be perfect you, but sadly, everyone else is left to play the cards they were dealt. Of course, not being you has to be a terrible burden on them, and it would only be right to do something for them if you could. You sigh as you bask in your greatness.
Then, you make a mistake (Insert gasp here), and that little mountain you were standing on turns into a pebble, and you realize that you’re on the same level with the former poor-and-unfortunates. A cloud forms right over your head as the waters below take on a murky greenish-grey hue. Remember that clean air your were breathing? Say goodbye to that too.
The If Only’s
Reality takes hold of you, and the plain, unmistakable truth rears it’s ugly head. You are human after all. You can be on top of the world and, in an instant, fall face-first as you give someone bad advice, answer a question incorrectly, or even call out the wrong name at a Miss Universe pageant (Oops! Did I type that?).
Your humanity fights the losing battle against that overwhelming feeling of being wrong, struggling to piece together a scenario that makes it all better in the moment. As you realize that you cannot win, the “if only’s” start to creep in. You replay the whole scene as if the error never occurred. Thoughts like, “if only I woke up 10 minutes earlier”, or “if only I hadn’t fallen asleep and missed my stop”, or “if only I had researched this issue before providing an answer”, all help to sink you deeper into regret.
What’s funny is how quickly the people who are witnesses to your mistake seem to forget that we all end up in that situation at some point in our lives. Have you ever been one of the lucky ones that had the chance to watch someone else squirm after a mistake was made? You know who I mean-one of the ones who will shake their head in disbelief at the exhibited stupidity. I have been guilty of that in the past. Instead of helping to rectify and pacify the issue, I’ve stood back and flashed that stare that mixes in just enough “you poor unfortunate soul” with “what’s wrong with you anyway?” to make a lasting impression.
When I said that, what I meant was…
So what do you do? You’ve opened your mouth and stuck your foot in it. The damage is done and cannot be undone. The ship has sunk. The bird has flown into the side of a building. The tire is flat. OK, you get my meaning. Often, one option that is exercised is to simply walk away…deny or ignore that it ever happened and hope that the sting of the moment will dissipate quickly. This has worked for some, especially in the entertainment industry. I’m looking at you Justin Timberlake. Ah, but if you’re not careful, this will leave an indelible mark on your character. I’m certain you would not want to be known as the entrepreneur that never takes any responsibility or corrective action. It definitely would not be good for business. And if you are working in a team environment, taking this approach will force others to have to close the gap in service that you cause by not taking any action at all. Not fair, and not a great way to make friends either.
Recipe for Redemption
It would be great to say that there is an easy way out of a sticky situation, but unfortunately, no such animal. When you make a mistake you’re going to have to ride the wave until the excitement dies down. And there will be excitement. Depending on the offense, it could last for a few minutes or a few days. In everyday life it could last a lot longer but for our purposes, any longer than a week is way too long and probably the result of someone wanting to keep it going.
To minimize the damage, I like to follow a simple formula that tends to work for a large variety of mistakes that occur (by my own logical measure, not scientific fact). You must be willing to Act, Acknowledge, and Correct.
The worst thing that you can do when you’ve made a mistake is to pretend that it never happened. Once you are made aware, you must act immediately, whatever it means to act. In some situations it takes a phone call. In others it may mean making an adjustment to a purchase order, or you might just have to tell your pagaent winner that she’s actually the runner up. Whatever you do, be sure to do it very shortly after you realize or have been made aware of your error.
Notice that I didn’t say apologize, I said acknowledge. Now, an apology may certainly be a part of your acknowledgement but never let it be all there is to it. Remember, people don’t care how sorry you are more than they want to know what you’re going to do to fix the problem. More on that here.
It’s important that your acknowledgement contains at least 3 things, a restatement of the offense (or apology if necessary), a plan to correct the error, and a plan forward so that the mistake never happens again. If you don’t have a plan, be sure that the victim of your wrong-doing knows that you’re working on a plan to rectify.
Do this swiftly. There’s no sense in leaving it up to someone else to fix what went wrong. If you don’t know what to do, get help. Never let it be said that you didn’t at least try to make things right. This is how you keep trust with your customers. You’d be surprised at how forgiving the general public can be. If you can manage to not make the same mistake twice, and if you acted swiftly to correct, customers will respect that and will be glad to give you another opportunity to provide your service to them.
And with that
To err is human. We all know that. To ignore the “err” is just wrong. As much as it may not feel like it at the time, no one can ever truly say that they’ve never been in a situation where they have had to correct a mistake that was made. Just know that, if they’re telling you otherwise, they are lying.
When you’re correcting, be honest. If necessary, let them know how the mistake happened. Express your regret but apologize only once. You can very easily say “I regret that this happened.” Goes over much easier than “I’m sorry”, and, believe it or not, it sounds a little more genuine in my opinion. Plus, nobody really cares if you’re sorry anyway, right? (insert wink emoji)
Lastly, do NOT miss the lesson in your mistake. There is always something to learn in these situations. What is challenging is that it may not be your lesson to learn but a circumstance that occurred to teach someone else a lesson. Learn so that your mistakes will not be repeated. Do not waste time going around the same mountain instaed of moving forward.
Here’s a challenge…when you get the lesson, share it with someone else, especially if you see that they are headed for or are in the midst of the same situation. If you could save someone the same feelings that you felt, do so. You never know. They may be able to save you someday!
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