How To Make Mistakes Like A Pro
You hit “reply all.” Or you had one too many drinks at the office holiday party and behaved inappropriately. Maybe someone pressed the wrong button on a terrible day and you blew up at them. Perhaps you forgot to mail an important document or you gave out proprietary information without realizing that you’d done anything wrong, but you’re finding out now from a customer or from your boss that you screwed up big time.
Mistakes are easy to make. But if you’re a perfectionist like me, you really hate knowing that, much less admitting it. Yes, failure is an important and necessary part of life, not to mention part of success. However, as a perfectionist, I like to do things smarter and not harder…so I even want to be a perfectionist about the process of making said mistakes. Here, a complete guide to making mistakes like the professional that you are:
- Just be honest. You’ve heard it said that honesty is the best policy. If you want to be a pro, though, honesty is the only policy. This involves also being honest with yourself. Think about that mistake and realize your role in it. Then tell the parties affected that you indeed made a mistake, if they didn’t already know. Don’t fudge the details or the surrounding situation; being completely truthful about the ordeal provides for thorough problem-solving opportunities. Lying about details to save face can lead to inefficient solutions and can blow things up even more.
- Ask for help. If you don’t know how to solve the issue or rectify the situation, don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you would normally ask the affected parties for help, then be sure to have some ideas for solutions up front before speaking with them. It’s important to show that you are pro-active, but also that you are open to better ideas for the fix. If you are fortunate enough to have a supervisor that remembers their own mistakes in life, make sure to take notes when they’re giving their ideas. If your supervisor remembers that they are instead perfect and always have been, it doesn’t necessarily mean that their solutions aren’t good ones–remember to maintain your humility and use it to deflect any ego or arrogance you might encounter when asking for assistance.
- Don’t forget to apologize. This one can be hard for many of us, and unfortunately, there are still people who believe that admitting mistakes shows weakness or incompetence. It’s not (see above: everyone makes mistakes.) Remember that, “I’m sorry you feel that way” is not an apology. Make your apology honest and heartfelt–people will be able to see right through insincerity. Be sure to include that, in addition to being sorry, you are going to make it up to the person. A supervisor once told me to use this line, and I think it works well: “As humans, we all make mistakes. What separates us from that point is whether or not we will fix them, and I intend on fixing this and making sure it doesn’t happen again.” Who wouldn’t identify with that?
- Forgiveness doesn’t happen overnight. It may be that you never see the affected parties again, or it wasn’t such an egregious error that it will take time to rebuild a reputation. But it might. If the affected parties don’t want to move past it quickly, remember that trust takes time. Make it a point after you’ve expressed your sincere apologies with your words to show them with your actions that you are able to be trusted again, and that you want to make it up to them.
- Post-game analysis. To read my articles is to know that this concept is one that I believe works in any and every situation. Reflecting on your mistake gives you the opportunity to see what led to it happening, how you should have handled it versus how you did handle it, and how to make sure that it doesn’t happen again. Then, actually use that information. People will be impressed with your ability to learn from your errors.
To err is human, right? But just because it’s part of our chemical makeup to screw things up now and again doesn’t mean we have to be amateurs at it. If you want to become even more expert at making mistakes, I recommend the “My Best Mistake” from thought leaders on LinkedIn. Start using these tips and watch yourself grow as a person and a professional, not to mention the improvement of others’ opinions of you.