We hear it all the time, “mistakes happen”. We’re told it’s part of life, and therefore part of business, but it doesn’t feel so great when you’re faced with an angry or disappointed client, a bruised ego, and a reputation to mend. It’s especially troubling when you’re just getting started and you feel like the wind has been knocked out of you. You begin to question whether or not you’re cut out for business, whether you could really make it, and whether the whole “own your own business” thing is right for you after all. You know mistakes happen, but what are your options when they do?
Fear often makes us do things we know we shouldn’t. The kind of fear that comes up when we’re faced with mistakes leads some people either to try to cover up the mistakes or try to move on as if nothing happened. We know deep down that’s not productive, but unless we have an idea of specific actions to take, sticking our head in the sand could look like a viable option. Mistakes fall squarely in the “unforeseen” category, and the best way to prepare for unforeseen circumstances is to have a plan. Here’s a 5-step process that should reduce your anxiety, help you work through the situation, and get you to the other side wiser and stronger.
Step 1: Own the Mistake and Apologize
No excuses. Don’t pass the blame on to someone or something else. Whether someone else pointed it out or you noticed it yourself, acknowledge that you played a role in the situation. But be careful how you do it. Resist the urge to explain all the reasons behind the mistake, and don’t highlight the fact that you missed something crucial. You don’t want to look incompetent. A simple acknowledgment and apology would do.
Yes, apologize. Don’t grovel, just apologize. This might sound obvious, but it’s surprising how the excitement of the moment could make you forget this important step. This apology might be to employees, it might be to clients, it might even be to you. Mistakes cause distress and people need to know that you see the distress you caused, and you’re remorseful. It lets them know you’re aware of the situation, that you’re on top of things. When you apologize, you show that you’re taking responsibility for your actions, and you’re empowering yourself to be instrumental in finding a solution. You’re saying you’re strong enough to handle it.
Keep apologies simple and add in a promise to deal with the situation. Say something like, “I’m sorry this happened, and that you’re experiencing this. I see where the problem is and I’ll deal with it right away.”
Step 2: Analyse the Situation and Provide Options
Taking a heavy-handed approach as if you have all the answers may not be the best way to handle the situation. It might seem as if you’re being proactive and getting things done quickly, but be careful not to rush into any actions that could create further challenges. Seek advice if the situation is not easily addressed. When those you’re dealing with are already reeling from the distress of the mistake, they need to feel like they have some control over the situation as well. But don’t be too quick to give in to all their demands without conducting a thorough investigation. Making a mistake doesn’t mean you alone must bear the brunt of the solution, so don’t automatically go to that option. There may be times you have to accept losses for the sake of a long-term relationship or the nature of the problem, but take some time to see what options there are available before making a decision. Of course, you should be open to discussion, and err on the side of caution. Even though it’s your mistake, you may still be able to find solutions where most, if not everyone involved, are satisfied.
Step 3: Take Action and Keep Emotions in Check
Acknowledging and addressing a mistake is an emotional situation, but you need to remember to keep control of feelings like depression and anger. Emotional reactions cause you to lose sight of what you’re doing, your goals, and your triumphs, and can turn a bad day into a bad week. So take a moment to remind yourself that regardless of how you feel as a result of the mistake, it’ll pass and you’ll be back on track soon. In the meantime, do what you can to deal with the situation as soon as possible. Having a plan of action that you can follow makes this process easier, so write down what you need to do and get to it.
Step 4: Put Systems in Place
After you’ve implemented a solution, mended relationships, and made things right again, take a long look at what caused the mistake. Go beyond the obvious and dig deep into your attitudes, mindset, business practices and procedures, and company systems. Use the opportunity to discover why the mistake happened so that you can ensure it wouldn’t happen again. Is it that you’re taking on more jobs than you can handle? Could it be that your reporting structure has a few gaps? Or maybe there are insufficient checks and balances to guarantee consistent quality? Sometimes it’s as simple as taking on a job when all your instincts were telling you not to. There are times we forget our principles and go after the money in ways that don’t resonate with our core values. Whatever the reason, be clear of the cause and put systems in place to ensure that this particular mistake doesn’t happen again.
Step 5: Learn Your Lessons and Move On
Finally, you need to learn your lesson and move on. This is probably the hardest thing to do, especially when there are people who make it their business to remind you of your faults and missteps. The worst part is when your own insecurities cause you to keep harping on your failings. We are often our own worst enemies in these situations. But guess what, it doesn’t have to be that way. So you made a mistake, it happens. The real question is, what did you do about it? If you’re satisfied that you did everything within your power to make things right, that you’ve taken steps to reduce the possibility of something similar happening again, then you just need to chalk this up as a learning experience and continue growing and developing as an entrepreneur. So whenever the negative talk comes up, remind yourself that you dealt with it already and other things need your energy and time.
We all wish that business would go smoothly, from strength to strength, but reality has other plans. Sometimes things happen beyond our control. Sometimes we just make mistakes. Either way, making it through means taking it in stride, being prepared, and doing what needs to be done.
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Shelley-Ann Edwards-Barran is a writer, editor, writing coach, speaker, and advocate for better writing instruction. She is the CEO of WERD Coach Ltd., a company dedicated to helping writers at many levels – children, academics, authors.