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Dealing with mistakes

We all make mistakes. Lots of them. Rarely a day goes by without me making at least one, whether it be forgetting to run an errand, coming home late without warning my wife, being late to a meeting, making a bad trade, or losing patience with one of my kids. It’s OK to make mistakes because it’s part of makes us human. I would argue that our demanding lifestyle makes us prone to make much more than our parents.

I believe there are two types of mistakes: the ones that negatively impact us, and those that affect others. It’s unpleasant to be on the receiving end of a mistake, whether it was yours or someone else’s.

People have different ways to deal with mistakes they make that affect others. Some will try (and often succeed) to convince themselves that even though it wasn’t planned, the outcome of their action is better for everyone, including the people affected by it. Others will try to hide it, acting as if nothing happened, hoping no one will notice or that time will heal all wounds. Others will plainly lie, scheming, hoping they’ll never get caught. Others will look for excuses, blaming others, the weather, the market, the cell phone battery, traffic, etc.

We’ve all come across these people, and we can also probably remember times in our respective lives where we used some of these tactics. I know I have. You don’t have to be a scholar to see how wrong these approaches are.

There are better ways to deal with mistakes. This is how I try to deal with mine:

1- Stop everything, concentrate, and put yourself in the shoes of the other. Assume the worst. How do you feel? If it doesn’t feel right, you’ve probably made a mistake.

2- Take full responsibility for your actions. Don’t be afraid to say you screwed up. Assuming responsibility is an important step towards building mutual respect and trust. Only real men (or women) take full responsibilities for their actions.

3- Apologize with sincerity. Check your ego at the door and say you’re sorry. An apology is something you give expecting nothing in return. It shows you care. You can’t fake it.

4- If the apology is accepted, propose solutions to fix the situation and offer to make it up to them.

One can argue that not all mistakes are black or white. To that I say when in doubt, always assume the worst and apologize. What bad can come of it?

The key to all of this is to treat people the way we want to be treated.

I apologize everyday. To my wife, my kids, business partners, friends, acquaintances and people I don’t even know. I don’t think it makes me less of a man.

Imagine a world in which everyone takes responsibility for their actions, apologizes for their mistakes, and looks for solutions to fix them…

5 comments ↓

#1 Robert Saric on 01.31.11 at 10:12 am

Couldn’t agree more JS. The best way to deal with a mistake is to understand that we will make mistakes no matter what. Personally, if I didn’t have a certain level of acceptance towards my own mistakes, it is unlikely that I would even consider making any corrections, let alone learning from them. The best teachers have always been my worst mistakes.

#2 Christopher S. Rollyson on 02.08.11 at 11:34 pm

JS, thanks for an inspirational post. I think about this all the time when mentoring clients on how to interact in digital venues; people don’t fully realize that their actions are even more visible; “favorable” and “unfavorable.” People exhibit all the behaviors you describe so viscerally online.

Are you also implying that, if you’re living on the edge, you have to make mistakes. People always bring this up when describing a healthy innovation environment: no pain, no gain. I apologize all the time because I’m on the edge.

You bring out the deciding factor beautifully: own it; only then can you apologize with integrity AND the other person has the chance to feel your sincerity.

Awesome post!

#3 Akira Hirai on 02.11.11 at 3:50 pm

It’s also important to learn to move on once you’ve done what you can to gracefully fix the damage (which is the spirit of your post). What’s done is done – you can’t let the past paralyze you.

#4 Com on 08.18.11 at 4:04 pm

great article,

my favourite part

The key to all of this is to treat people the way we want to be treated.

I apologize everyday. To my wife, my kids, business partners, friends, acquaintances and people I don’t even know. I don’t think it makes me less of a man.

#5 James on 01.13.13 at 6:09 am

JS. A viable point. If you are not accountable to your own actions, how are you accountable at all. For myself, I am not so quick to apologize always. Saying I am sorry frequently lessens the value of the word and action. I try and admit I am wrong promptly, eating young crow is better than eating old crow, so I have been told. In admitting my mistake, I ask what I can do to make the situation right, or let those I have offended know that I will not repeat it. This post brings to light several personal inspirations, including an insight from a friend; Those that are not making mistakes, are not doing anything. I believe Thomas Edison said he did not fail 200 times before inventing the light bulb, he merely found 200 ways of not making a light bulb. Trying to put myself in the other persons shoes, is a good exercise even if I haven’t made a mistake. This has served me well when dealing with everyone in my business community, from the lowest guy on the totem pole to the top. I have found when I am compassionate towards others, they are willing to help me and support me when it counts, such as forgiving me for my own plethora of mistakes. In closing, I do feel sorry for those who can not look at themselves honestly, admit where they fall short and try to correct character flaws. I need the help of others, no successful human being is self-made. I need to honor all of my relations to go forward confidently, without regret. Thank you for the post, and your personal experience with this.

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