How to deal with mistakes?

failures mistakes Dec 04, 2016

Not too long ago I almost ruined a relationship with a business partner I had been working with for years. Why? I had made a mistake and had forgotten to pass on an invoice to be paid. Well, that can happen. But I did not act immediately. Because I had loads to do, I was just moving house, I had used this business partner for services for a club I was engaged with. A club I left with my move. Lots of might also call it excuses.

When I finally realized this was still pending, months had gone by. Did you ever experience such a situation? Ignoring a mistake for so long that admitting it creates such a cringing feeling of shame that you rather try to mask and forget it? This book, which never finds its way back to its owner? Or this call we promised to make to support a friend and it never happened?

I had ignored my mistake and now felt so ashamed that I blushed at only thinking about what I had done. So I postponed again. And meanwhile there was an awful uncomfortable silence between us. Guess no surprise.

Finally my moral compass which had been flashing up time and time again was taking over and I decided to act. I mastered all my courage, and with a hammering heart got back in touch with the club, made sure that the invoice got paid (pheww) and wrote a long letter to my business partner in which I sincerely apologized and asked for forgiveness.

We all make mistakes

You're not alone. Nor am I. We all make mistakes. This is human. My story though is probably the best example of how NOT to handle them. There is a much better way (as you can imagine) which - admittedly - takes guts, integrity and some level of humility.

Why mistakes happen and what to do about it

Maybe you are really great in your job (or your relationship). But even then you might come across things you don't know, where you are lacking the skills. And you don't dare asking - after all everybody assumes that you are just this one person who has an answer to everything. So you might miss this information which is relevant to make the right decision.

Or you just overlook something because you are completely overworked and this thing plainly escaped your attention.

Or maybe you were just not thorough enough. Or your ego or pride came in your way.

Good thing is that there is a way of dealing with that situation.

1. Own it - forget finger pointing

Whatever the reason - own your mistake. Immediately. Not weeks or months later. I know that this is a major act of courage, but so crucial. Only if you accept responsibility for your mistake you have a chance to go through the next steps to make things right.

Fear of the consequences: More often than not fear is holding us back. Fear of the consequences – even if we don’t know them. However, even if you do you might be afraid. I can assure you though: the only way is moving forward, accepting that it is you who’s responsible. Not another person, because they distracted you. Or the circumstances. Or the weather…or whatever you find to blame it on.

And let’s face it – more often than not the consequences are far less awful than we might fear. Almost always our worst thoughts don’t become reality.

So come forward and admit the mistake. Whatever it was. If you said no to something you should have said yes to. If you mixed up numbers in a report which made a lot of people sweat. If you quoted a wrong price to the customer. Or if you’ve forgotten your partner’s birthday and booked a business trip on that day.

Interestingly enough most people are rather understanding when you come forward and have tendency to forgive you. If you walk through the other steps too. So far my experience - what is yours?

2. Apologize

Sincere apologies go a long way. Just do it and don’t make it about yourself, but simply say sorry for what you did. Period.

3. Make it right

More often than not there is a chance to rectify the mistake. So simply go ahead and do it. If you can’t do it on your own (in case you miss some information) get some help.

You’ll be surprised how good it feels if you put things right. This nagging feeling of guilt or not being good enough disappears and the relieve is so much worth it.

4. Learn from it

Making a mistake can happen. Making the same mistake twice is a choice.

Look back at why it happened and think about how you can avoid it next time. Maybe it means mastering the courage to ask next time you don’t have all the information or skills to do the job at hand. Or you simply put this birthday in your calendar as a reoccurring event – so you see immediately if you are double booking.

Whatever it is you have the chance to learn, try and do it. And give yourself the chance to improve continuously and become your better self. Step by step.

In case you were wondering: My business contact forgave me. Even after all those months. You wouldn't believe how grateful I wast. And relieved. And I know that I will not ever do anything like that again.







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