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Cleaning Up the Mess of Professional Mistakes

By Dr. Geri Markel On 

Have you made a professional blunder? It happens to all leaders – you’re not alone!

Mistake1As part of your own leadership development, (and/or when mentoring emerging leaders on your team), remember this:  The way in which you deal with professional mishaps contributes to your professional image and to your sense of self.

Perhaps you’ve made an insensitive remark, used poor judgment, lacked follow-through, or lost an important document. You’ve cost others time, energy, and perhaps, money.

 Here are some tips for cleaning up the mess of professional mistakes:

1. Self-Management: Have the attitude that as the consummate professional, you provide a money-back guarantee if your patient, client, or customer is not fully satisfied.

2. Stress-Management: Make the assumption that everyone, regardless of training or intent, occasionally makes mistakes or is insensitive.

3. Problem Solving: Don’t deny the negative feedback. Stand back, put yourself in the other’s shoes, and analyze the conditions and consequences. Objectively examine, “What role or responsibility do I assume?”

4. Executive Functioning and Leadership Skills: Reach out and take action. Consider any of the following:

• Legitimize the other person’s feedback and feelings.
• Apologize for the difficulty or situation in a sincere manner (e.g., I’m sorry that the situation occurred.” Or “In this case, I take responsibility and I apologize for any inconvenience.”)
• Send a greeting card or note of apology. If you write a note, make sure that you check the spelling—especially of the other person’s name.
• Ask, “What might help the situation?” For example, is another resource or referral necessary?
• Offer to make amends in a concrete way. Some options include: no charge for the service, a refund, or a free service or product.

5. Take the pause that refreshes. Schedule time to further process your actions and feelings related to the situation. Ask, “Is this an occasional phenomenon or is this type of situation a pattern?” If the frequency of such difficulties is increasing, then reach out to someone such as another professional friend to discuss the situation. You may be unaware of the ways in which the stresses and strains within your private life impact your professional behavior or judgment.

6. Use the lesson learned for Self-Empowerment. If you don’t have a public policy or procedure for handling Mistake2mistakes or errors, write one and include it in your promotional literature and discuss it during your professional interactions.

“To error is human, to forgive, divine.” Centuries ago, Alexander Pope, generally regarded as the greatest English poet of the eighteenth century, provided some guidance for us when we err.

Remember, this is a vital leadership development skill to master. When professional mishaps or mistakes occur, forgive yourself for the momentary lapse or slippage. This acceptance and forgiveness reduces stress and allows you the energy and motivation to deal effectively with the situation. You can clean up the mess of a mistake by focusing on the future and developing an action plan that rights the wrong. When you model professional problem-solving behavior, you set the stage for continued positive performance and productivity.


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