Early on a Saturday morning before a new book release, I opened up social media to learn that one of my launch team members found an error in the advance copy of the book. It made my stomach turn a little. Mistakes really bother me, especially when they are mine. The name of a friend who also is one of my endorsers was misspelled in the body of the book. My stomach knotted up. Misspelling someone’s name feels dishonoring.
In reality, we all make mistakes and it seems like I make at least one every day. Sometimes, they are typos like the one in my book. Sometimes, they are words spoken that should have been kept silent. Sometimes, they are poor decisions that show a lack of sound judgment. In all of these circumstances, mistakes can be important learning lessons. Before we learn, we must recover.
How do we recover from a mistake?
- If possible, apologize. Sometimes, there is no one to apologize to or no way to deliver the apology. The apology should fit the mistake. In the case of the misspelling, I reached out immediately to my friend and told her about the mistake. I sincerely apologized and explained that while the book was already printed, I would be sure to make the correction for the next printing. She was incredibly gracious in her response.
Years ago, I remember making another mistake. I was leaving the office late one fall afternoon. My mind was a million miles away on the work I just left and the chores waiting for me at home. I did something inconsiderate and thoughtless. As I was driving down the driveway, one of the grounds maintenance staff had a big pile of leaves that he had blown off the road to the shoulder. He may have been working on those leaves all afternoon. I didn’t slow down and as I drove by, those leaves blew everywhere. I could see his frustration in my rearview mirror. A simple apology would not solve this situation. It was time to make brownies. The next morning I arrived at work and told the young man how sorry I was for wrecking his day and gave him a peace offering of a pan of brownies. It worked! When I see him, even today, we still laugh about it.
- If possible, correct the error. There are some mistakes we cannot correct. We cannot take back thoughtlessly spoken words. We can cause harm that can never be reversed. In the case of the misspelled name in the book, I could not correct the name before the book released since it was already printed, but I did correct if for the next printing. It’s also important to make the right correction.
When my son was 12, he achieved an academic award at school. He had worked really hard for two years to earn the recognition. It was special to him and to us. On the night of the awards banquet, I opened the program and his name was not included for the award. He was disappointed and so I was I. After a few minutes of thinking about what to do, I walked up to the school administrator and asked her about the omission. She said, “well we don’t proofread these things.” (Yes, I promise you, she said that.) Her solution was not the right correction. When the program began, she stood up and said to everyone in that packed room, “It has come to my attention that one of the students who is receiving the Presidential Scholar’s Award is not listed in your program. So, if everyone could take a pen and write in __(his first name) __(his middle name)____Turner on your program, he can be added.” My pre-teen son was humiliated. She singled him out and called him by his full name. Twelve year old boys abhor both of those things. It would have been better for her to call him across the stage to receive the award without mentioning the error. Correct the error, if possible, and make sure it’s the right corrective action for the situation.
- If possible, don’t make the same mistake twice. One of the ways we recover from mistakes is to learn from it and not make the same mistake again. Early in my business career, I made a printing error. I produced a brochure for my company and after it was printed, I realized I misspelled “restaurant,” which was especially inappropriate since I worked for a restaurant company! Now, every time I type that word, I double check to see that it is spelled correctly. I have never made that mistake again. I often tell that story to my team members at work when they make a mistake. I want them to know I recognize that I make mistakes, too, and that what I expect from them is to not make the same mistake twice.
Unfortunately, there have been just a few times that I have made the same mistake twice. When that happens with one of my responsibilities at home, my husband and I discuss whether or not a certain task is my real talent. He is much more detailed than me. I tend to be strategic, visionary and creative. He rarely misses a detail. He is meticulous about research whether it is about a vacation we plan to take or a home appliance we need to purchase. We discovered from time to time that I am moving very fast and, sometimes, I don’t slow down for the details. When we make big purchase decisions, I tell him what I want to do, and he does the research to make the right decisions. After a few times of me making the same mistake twice, we realized that this works better for us.
We can recover from our mistakes if we own our mistakes and then apologize sincerely, correct the mistake promptly and avoid making the same mistake twice. Most importantly, we cannot be paralyzed by our mistakes. Once we have taken these three actions, we need to let it go and move on, knowing we have done our best to resolve the situation.
What mistakes are troubling you? Can you use these three steps to recover from them?