When Austin was in kindergarten, the students were assigned daily or weekly tasks to teach them responsibility. Line leaders led the line, table washers cleaned the tables -- you get the picture. One very important task was to take out and bring in the orange cones for recess. The kindergartens played in an area with a circle driveway, so during recess, the cones were placed so that cars would not use that route. But one day at recess, someone forgot to bring in the orange cones. Austin’s teacher, Mrs. Cordes, asked who left the cones out, but no student took responsibility for the mistake. Later that day, as Mrs. Cordes read the story during circle time, Austin jumped up and screamed, “I did it! I did it! I forgot to bring in the cones!” and burst into tears. Although his over dramatic confession was the stuff of CSI or an episode of 48 Hours, obviously the guilt took over, and Austin finally took responsibility for the mistake. Well, you’ll be glad to know that his punishment was not very harsh and consisted of him losing the all-important task of cone bearer for the rest of the week (which for Austin was pretty devastating -- it was an important task!). But Austin learned a very important lesson -- it’s always better to take responsibility for our mistakes.
We all make mistakes. But how we handle those mistakes - the actions, words, or feelings after the mistake - can make all of the difference in the world. Again, I would love to work with you to address how to handle “life” mistakes, but this blog focuses on how to handle “work” mistakes and offers concrete tips to use in the workplace. I strongly believe that the very best way to improve all communication (in and out of the workplace) is to make it personal. So the word “I” is the easiest and most effective tool to use, especially when handling a mistake.
“I did it.” - take responsibility for the mistake. Even if there are extenuating circumstances or others involved, you can only control your actions and words.
“I am sorry.” - make the apology. Make sure it is timely and sincere. Don’t use “but” or “if” and clearly and concisely acknowledge the mistake.
“I will …” - offer a solution or a way to prevent the mistake from happening again. Or ask for help to develop a plan.
“I understand how you feel.” - be prepared for others to share their feelings about the mistake. You may experience hurt feelings, anger, and frustration. Be prepared to just listen.
“I will learn from the mistake and move on.” - after taking responsibility, apologizing, offering a plan, and allowing others to vent, evaluate the situation and find lessons to learn. Then, stop beating yourself up and move on. We ALL make mistakes.
We live in a world where “I’m sorry” doesn’t seem to mean much anymore. Celebrities and other public figures make huge mistakes but often feel that the words are enough. And even though I know the power of words, when you make a mistake (personally or professionally), the words need to be backed up with sincerity and positive actions. etc Strategies believes that personally addressing a mistake shows credibility and confidence and strengthens communication. So, the next time you make a mistake, just say, “I did it.” But maybe not quite as dramatically as Austin!