Monday, July 16, 2007

Handling Your Mistakes

It's often said that if you're not making mistakes, you're not learning. But in that mistakes can sometimes be messy, how you clean them up after them is an important skill to learn.
  1. Respond quickly. Once you realize you've made a mistake, deal with it sooner rather than later - even if what happened was completely unintentional, or not entirely your fault.
  2. Apologize, thoroughly. Don't just regret that you did something wrong; apologize sincerely for what you did wrong - even if it resulted from the best of intentions.
  3. Take responsibility. Sure there were probably mitigating circumstances, but in most cases, they're irrelevant. These situations are often more about insuring that whatever you let happen (or failed to make happen) doesn't happen again. Resist the urge to blame others or wiggle out of things. That rarely works as well as you think it might.
  4. Check in. See if your apology was received as complete and sufficient. Remember, while it starts with how you clean up after yourself, it doesn't end until your apology is actually accepted.
  5. Accept accountability. Sometimes, you'll still be warned or reprimanded for what you did. If that's the case, accept whatever lumps you have coming. Hopefully, they'll be few.
  6. Get back to work. You made a mistake, responded quickly, apologized thoroughly, took responsibility, checked in, and accepted accountability for your actions. Now it's time let it go and refocus back on the tasks at hand.

Failing to take responsibility for the mistakes we make can often have career-limiting implications. But if handled appropriately, mistakes can actually help one's career - by showing others how we deal with pressure, how we handle criticism, how we learn from what doesn't go well, etc.

As with so many things, the choice of how you respond is up to you.

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