How to deal with your mistakes

We’ve discussed before about creating disciplines for becoming ever more authentic and completely yourself. Why then would you ever make a mistake again? Because we all fall short of ideal behaviour, and forget to choose to be great and behave well on a daily basis. I know I do.

In society, admitting mistakes is often seen as weak and fragile. This is why you turn on the radio every day to hear politicians transferring blame to the ‘other lot’, and commentators and interviewers conducting witch hunts to identify the people responsible for situations that occur. Small wonder that people in leadership positions in society often feel they ‘have to’ lie to cover up their mistakes. It’s a powerful education for the rest of us in the perceived consequences of coming clean.

Ok, so you’ve screwed up. You have lost an important business client. Sent a confidential email to the wrong recipient. Used the wrong choice of words in an email to a client. Whatever the situation, someone trusted you to do the job and you failed.

Very human, and a very understandable thing, but what do you do now? Given the climate we live in it’s tempting to duck responsibility and blame others, or external circumstances. But is that really the easy way out? Or is it an ‘out’ that closes all your future and potential escape routes? Is it a ‘sin’ that causes you to sin even more? Will it be the lie that eventually causes you to lie again and again?

There is always another option: admitting to the mistake, reflecting on it, and ensuring that it does not happen again. There will be consequences. Part of cleaning up your mistakes involves facing up to the consequences – apologising to the person you hurt, paying the money back, enduring the public embarrassment.

But there are consequences either way. Mistakes and foul-ups don’t go away by themselves. Someone always has to deal with them and take the consequences. If you dodge the bullet, you lose the trust of the people around you, and other people clean up your mess. And every time you sweep your mess under the carpet, a little bit of the true you goes into hiding. You can’t hold your head high in the world if you are constantly on your guard for people finding out your guilty secrets.

Admitting your mistakes, with a sincere explanation and apology, often leads to a resolution that may even lessen the consequences. It shows character, courage and integrity. This just might be enough to keep your job and your reputation – though that shouldn’t be your main reason for doing it!

Here are some pointers on dealing with mistakes:

  • See things from the other’s perspective: If you’ve made a promise and failed to keep it, put yourself in their shoes and see how things look from there. How would you feel? And what action would satisfy you?
  • Be sympathetic: Realise that your mistakes might affect others, and recognise the pain you’ve caused. A bit of empathy might be the opening you need to set things right.
  • Take responsibility: Don’t try to weasel out of it, and don’t look around for someone or something else to blame. Even if you failed because someone let you down, you can ultimately choose to accept responsibility.
  • Accept the consequences: It’s hard, but sometimes you have to bite the bullet. Few actions come without any consequences at all; be prepared to embrace whatever happens to you as a result of the mistakes you’ve made.
  • Have a plan: Taking responsibility means being prepared to clean up the mess; you’ll need a plan. You should have a clear idea of what went wrong and how you can fix it — and how you can avoid it in the future.
  • Be sincere: Don’t pretend to feel sympathy so that the other person can see how deeply you care. Don’t play the martyr. Show honest emotion — the first step to rebuilding the trust lost.
  • Apologise. No, really. A lot of people go to great lengths to make up for their mistakes — or to hide them — when a simple “I’m sorry” would do the job, and cause fewer hard feelings.

None of these actions guarantees that your job, relationships, etc will be intact after admitting a mistake. But at least you will come out with your dignity and your head held high. You’ll know that you have done the best you can to resolve the issue. And you’ll know that you have nothing to hide – you can continue on your way with a clear conscience and unimpaired self-expression. No amount of (avoided) embarrassment can outweigh that feeling!