How to mess up.


January 5, 2015 by smallarmyjeff

Happy New Year! In an effort to help make 2015 a great year for you, I thought I’d start the year off with an article on how to mess up. Might as well get in front of it – because, regardless of how hard we try, how talented we are or how much we care, we all make mistakes. (Well, everyone except my wife.) We don’t do them intentionally. However, when they happen, they can cause considerable angst and frustration – not just for us, but for all of those involved.

So, from someone whose made/seen his share of mistakes (including a recent one that caused me to write this blog), I thought I’d share some tips on how to turn mistakes into positive experiences. (NOTE: I’ve found that these tips work with personal relationships as much as they do with business relationships):

1.  Get in front of it.
Don’t let mistakes linger. As embarrassing as they may be, alert all of those who may be impacted as soon as it happens. Better to address it sooner rather than later so we can all work together to fix it and identify solutions that make sense for everyone.

2.  Suck it up and apologize.
It’s ok to make mistakes – everyone makes them. But, it’s also important to accept fault and apologize when you do. You will earn the respect of your colleagues (or loved one, friend, etc.) for being honest and recognizing the issue.

3.  Don’t make excuses.
Yeah, we get it. You were busy, sick, stuck in traffic, confused…whatever. It really doesn’t matter. It happened. It’s OK to mention it, but it doesn’t make it right. Instead of making excuses for why things went wrong, listen to those who were impacted so you can work to make things right.

4.  Make it a learning moment.
Take a step back and ask “What happened?” (this and “Why?” are my two favorite questions). Make sure you understand not only what the mistake was, but what caused it to happen and how it impacted others.

5.  Don’t do it again!
First time is OK (if handled properly). Second time you may get a pass. Third strike and you’re out. After three times, it shows that you clearly didn’t take the lesson to heart – trust and respect are out the window.

I’ve found that by following these rules, you can learn from your mistakes and greatly minimize the impact that they may have. And, perhaps most importantly, we can actually earn trust and respect by dealing with our mistakes appropriately.

As always, thanks for reading. And please feel free to share, comment or just absorb.


2 thoughts on “How to mess up.

  1. mmbishop94 says:

    Great list! So true with each one, especially with the take-away. Being sure to remember why something went wrong

  2. Don Packer says:

    Funny how you just brought this up. On a very small scale… yesterday.

    I got on the subway and I thought I bumped something with my bag on the way to my seat. Not even thinking about it. When I sat down and looked left, a young woman was glaring at me.

    I waited.

    I kept checking.

    She had looked away and resumed the search of her phone for something interesting.

    My stop came and I got up and slowed in front of her and I bent over and said “I’m really sorry but I think I bumped you on the way in.”

    She looked up with a bit of surprise and embarrassment and she said “It’s cool.”

    I felt better.

    It’s not the overarching that you are referring to but for me, it set the tone for the rest of the day.

    Thanks Jeff. And Happy New Year.

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