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Keys to Recovering from (and Preventing) Mistakes

We're all human, and we all mess up from time to time. And that's ok! I wrote a blog for Project Connections on how we can keep things moving forward after a fumble without suffering a huge hit to our influence on the team, and I picked a handful of mistake-recovery tips to share with you--if you want to check out all 8, click here.

 

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You just got wind that something's not right. A file got messed up, the ball got dropped, a risk you're not prepared for just blew up on your team...the bottom line is, something went wrong.

 

 

We can't exactly tell you when, where, or what will go wrong, but we can just about guarantee that someone on your team will mess up eventually--it might even be you! Here are some tips to think about when you're making things right, because if you're going to make a mistake, you might as well do it well and recover quickly!

 

Over-Communicate to Prevent Mistakes

 

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If you've got assumptions on a project or team effort, say them out loud to give everyone in the room an opportunity to either confirm or clarify and get everyone on the same page. It's okay to start with, "I assume you know that...", or "I assume we're both on the same page about..." No one really knows what's going on inside anyone else's head, and assuming out loud can help us prevent gaffes before they happen.

 

 

Respond First (and/or Fast)

 

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The instant you notice an issue, be the first to respond. It might be tempting to sit on it and let someone else take the ball, but doing nothing is almost never the best option. Pay attention to what's going on; listen to the peripheral context and the clues, and if you see a problem, be the first to bring it up--the sooner you say it, the sooner you can fix it and move on. (And the longer you wait, the worse it will be.) If someone else got there first, reach out to that person and let them know you're there and ready to help. Do what you need to do to demonstrate urgency and get yourself up to speed so you can create a plan to solve the problem.

 

Own It

 

Sorry

If there's even the tiniest chance you have any sliver of accountability for a small nuance of the current issue, then open with "I'm sorry." If you think you have no accountability in the issue at all, think again. Then, if you really can't come up with something you can apologize for, at least say "thanks for bringing it to my attention."

 

Take Action (and make it a priority)

 

570When there's an "oops" on the table, that mistake is importantly and urgently your highest priority. Clear your calendar until it's resolved, and give it the time and attention it needs. Let's rephrase - give that person the distinct impression with your words and actions that restoring their faith in you is more important than anything else you're doing. It's important, because without it, your influence is being eroded. It's urgent, because how we deal with problems and challenges, and mistakes, and missteps defines how we are perceived.

 

Close It Down

 

Whew. You're out of the woods--that is to say, the issue is resolved and the worst is behind you, but you're not completely finished. Bring closure to the situation (and conversation) with a message including:

 

A clear re-statement of what the issue was

A deliberate but brief account of why that problem occurred

Restate your accountability - apologize as appropriate, and demonstrate what you've done to fix it

An invitation to close the lid and move on.

 

We're all human, we all mess up. And we hope that when your turn comes, these hints make it just a little less painful, and make the recovery a little bit faster. How do you handle mistakes? Share with us on social media!

 

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About the Author

Sinikka Waugh

Sinikka Waugh is a recognized leader in understanding people and in adapting tools, techniques, and processes to meet the demands of the situation at hand. Since 2006, Sinikka has provided compassionate leadership in transformation initiatives. When she isn’t in front of a class, she enjoys putting her background in English and French Literature to work, by writing blogs about the subjects she teaches every day.


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