No matter how well intentioned we are, everyone makes mistakes. We say things we wish we hadn’t said, do things we wish we hadn’t done, believe things we wish we hadn’t believed. No one gets it right all the time.
A mentee came to me last week for advice about a recent experience of good intentions gone bad. A very influential leader had made a decision about the mentee’s business that he neither understood nor agreed with. In his attempt to gather additional information and context, he scheduled conversations with other stakeholders to talk through the decision. In one such conversation, he not only gleaned insight about that stakeholder’s perspective, but he also shared his, which obviously conflicted with the decision. As the game of he said/she said often goes, word got back to the decision maker, who perceived the context-gathering mission as an effort to undermine him. The decision-maker was ticked off, and my mentee felt misunderstood. He was also anxious about the after-effects of this mistake.
How do you move on when you’ve said too much or too little? Engaged the wrong people about the wrong issue at the wrong time? There are several factors at play in a situation like this, and a great deal to learn. Here are a few things to think about when you’ve made a mistake and are looking for a way to move beyond it.
Embrace Your Humanity
We are not perfect. We may be smart, accomplished, insightful, savvy…but not perfect. There are many situations for which there is no guidebook. We have to make our way through challenging circumstances as thoughtfully as we know how, with as much respect for all parties involved as we can muster. If you’ve done that, and things still go awry, recognize that human error is a part of life. It doesn’t make you a bad person. It makes you a normal person who made a bad call.
Own Your Mistake
If you were wrong, acknowledge it – and if appropriate – apologize. Try not to justify your actions. Often when we have good intentions, we defend our intentions to the end. If our approach negatively impacted a person in any way, we should accept responsibility and express our regrets. Remember, how others respond is out of our control. If we commit to doing the right thing whether it’s well received or not, we can find peace with it.
Learn to Honor the Order of Things
Sometimes we do the right thing, but in the wrong way. Have you ever tried to reconcile an issue, and it blows out of proportion because you simply started in the wrong place? Try to be thoughtful about who needs to know what, and when. And start as close to the core of an issue as possible.
Play Your Role
One way we get in trouble at work (and in life!) is by trying to fix other people’s problems. When mentees come to me with team issues, I encourage them to talk to the team first. If I get involved, their team strain has suddenly been magnified, and could become a credibility issue for any one member. They’re now on a stage as they work to resolve the problem, and everyone begins the angling process – positioning himself or herself to come out on top. Instead, we should address conflicts or ineffective processes at the source. It’s faster, and keeps negativity from spreading unnecessarily.
Focus on the Future
What have you learned from your mistake? What is most important moving forward, and how can you ensure your future efforts support your desired results? Don’t live in the past. You can’t change it. But you can grow in wisdom, and we should never miss an opportunity to do that.
Mistakes are a part of life. We’ve all made them, and I hate to break it to you, but we will make more. The good news is this: they are not the end of the world. They can, if you commit to learning from them, be the catalyst for a brighter, stronger, wiser you!