Man, I sure blew that. I had that discussion with my boss, and it sure feels like I gave her a bad impression. Now she’ll think I’m an idiot.
OK, time to calm down a bit. Mistakes at work happen. First, do I really understand what happened? Sure, it didn’t go how I had planned, but I don’t really know how she reacted to what happened. After all, she didn’t really know what was going on in my head – so her impression might have been quite different.
Second, what’s the best case and worst case outcome? Best case, I suppose that she was puzzled about the conversation, but just chalked it up to me having a bad day. Worst case, I’d better do some damage control quickly because she’s upset with what happened. But here’s the trick: I don’t want to get emotionally attached to either case. This just helps me to realize that my immediate impression wasn’t necessarily correct.
Third, what’s the RIGHT thing to do? To answer this, I have to dig down to some of my core principles. The right thing is probably to be humble, admit my mistake, and go back to my boss and apologize. Sincerely.
This is a tough process, yes. The idea is to slow down a little, look at a situation objectively, and think beyond just your emotional reaction.
I’ve always told my kids that mistakes happen, but the real test of character is whether you admit your errors and take responsible action to correct it. Maybe it would be good to listen to that myself!
Let’s look at another situation. Fred just realized that he made a mistake in the contract that he just signed – he forgot to add a key clause. And this is important.
Fred’s sweating at this point, worried that he’s going to get fired when this gets uncovered.
The emotional reaction is understandable, but not especially useful. It’s going to push him into a fight-or-flight mode, when neither alternative will lead to an improvement. Fred should stop, breathe, and start to think through the situation.
What’s the best-case scenario? Actually, not too bad. Maybe the other person will be very understanding, realizing that there’s an inconsistency between the discussion that took place and the signed papers. Perhaps he’ll empathize because he made a similar mistake himself last year.
What’s the worst-case scenario? That Fred will be held to the contract as signed, or that there will be a painful re-negotiation of terms, in which ground might be lost. You know what? Life continues on in either case. It’s even possible that Fred will lose his job over this, but life even continues after job loss.
What’s the RIGHT thing for Fred to do? Hiding the mistake (flight) from his boss will certainly be bad, as will doing irrational and dishonest things with the other party (fight). A more respectful and humble approach is needed. Fred needs to admit the mistake to his boss, and develop a plan to fix the error in as constructive a way as possible. Likely that course of action will be to then admit the mistake to the other party, ask for leniency, and negotiate a new course of action.
The end result of all this work is that Fred will be able to live with himself, and the others in this story will at least give him credit for owning up to his failures.
Of course, you want to do everything you can to avoid big mistakes up front. But there’s limits, you’re human, and you’ll screw up despite the best efforts.
Don’t beat yourself up – give yourself permission to move on and fix things.
by Carl Dierschow