I started off this week with a big slice of humble pie.
Failure seems to be all the rage right now, with articles abounding – failure is the new essential step toward success abounding. But that abstract reassurance doesn’t really help when that specific wave of realization comes washing over you:
I shouldn’t have done that.
My mistake? I didn’t ask questions before I tried to address a complaint. So, of course, I was missing half (or more) of the picture. The result? Some hurt feelings and time spent trying to understand, undo, and realign our group.
In the grand scheme of things, mistakes happen. We are, after all, only humans trying our best to work together in a complicated and demanding world.
Which means we live in a laboratory of mistakes and their ripple effects – the perfect environment from which to draw three pointers for managing your next mess up.
And it will happen…
1. Own it
This one is easy to say but hard to do. When it feels like everything rides on a decision –I’ll get fired, my co-worker will hate me, my boss won’t consider me for a raise- it’s really hard to look up and say “Yeah, I did that.”
It’s easy to play the blame game – Well, if you had been more clear, I would have done that. But how could I have known?
Blame tends to set off defensiveness which in turn sets of more blame and the next thing you know, you’ve spent half the day emailing something totally out of proportion while the actual issue remains unaddressed. And the actual issue often comes down to realizing that you probably knew something they didn’t and vice versa.
Next time you mess up, take a break before you do anything. Sit for a moment and let yourself acknowledge that you made a mistake.
It’s not the end of the world.
2. Get Some Perspective
Chances are high that there are things you don’t know. Always.
Find someone to talk to. This someone shouldn’t be your work-place-bestie who’s going to indignantly stand up for you and blame everyone else. That kind of support may feel good at first, but it really doesn’t help you manage the situation.
Instead, look for someone who can give you honest feedback or helpful suggestions. A mentor who has your best interests at heart.
If that somebody isn’t around, think back. You’ve seen lots of mistakes happen around you.
How have other people handled them?
What made you cringe?
What made you respect them more?
3. Do Something About It
It’s not enough to own the mistake and reflect on how you might have handled it better. You need to do something about it.
Remember what we learned in elementary school?
This can be really uncomfortable, especially if you have a history with the person or people involved. That’s not uncommon, because it’s those folks who press our buttons who show up time and again in our mistake laboratory, right?
Apologize, in person, if possible.
Don’t hide behind your inbox.
Don’t say “I’m sorry BUT…..” and proceed to tell them how you were actually right. That’s not a real apology.
Here’s the thing that makes an apology real: meaning it.
Sometimes we hesitate to apologize because we think it’ll make us look weak, or incompetent. But if you’ve already messed up, failure to apologize just makes you look arrogant and stubborn. Those aren’t the traits you’re going for, right?
A sincere apology opens the door to understanding.
Hey, I’m not perfect, what can you teach me?
I can’t guarantee that slice of humble pie will taste good, but these three tips might make it go down a little bit easier.
How have you recovered from a mistake?
What didn’t work?