Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Setbacks and Mistakes

Sometimes things happen in our jobs or our lives and we feel like we’ve really messed up or dropped the ball.  Maybe an error was made, something was missed, no one knew there was a problem or you just messed up.  Often there will be a situation where someone asks a question and all of sudden the issue comes to light and it makes you feel terrible.  Maybe you made a mistake at work or bounced a cheque at home.  Maybe you forgot an important event or did something you shouldn’t have.  

When something goes wrong, people will have physical reactions including tightening of the chest, shortness of breath, aches and pain, nausea, headaches among many other symptoms.  In addition to the physical feelings, we have our negative inner voice telling us we should have known better, should have caught the mistake or should have put in a few extra hours to get something done.

The reality often is not as bad as we make it out to be.  Possibly there are some repercussions or difficult questions to answer, but continuing to beat yourself up about what you should or could have done doesn’t help anyone.  This is the time when you really have to be strong and just face the facts.  You have to admit if you made a mistake, move forward and apologize when appropriate.  Admitting a mistake can be easier if you spend a little time figuring out why it happened, how it can be prevented in future and what actions can be taken to correct it.  You should not focus on coming up with excuses or blaming others.  Stick to the facts and be honest.  Find your allies in the situation because often it will involve more than one person and if you work together and present a solution and action plan you may come through looking great as you show that you can face challenges and not be paralyzed by fear, but rather step up, and move on.

Once you have your plan in place and know the details, it is time to face the situation or person.  You will often find that the person you have to face, such as your boss or your spouse is much more forgiving than or not nearly as worried about it as you thought they’d be.  

In a previous job, I remember making a mistake and because of the safety nature of my job, mistakes could have major consequences.  I found the mistake, figured out how to correct it and what needed to be done. Then I held my breath, walked into the boss’s office and told him what happened.  I had spent the last hour stressed and my boss wasn’t worried.  I had corrected the situation and had an action plan for the other things that needed to be done.  That was it.  Finished and done.  Don’t let yourself stew about the outcome.  Talk to the people involved, apologize if appropriate and move on.  You can’t change the past so focus on what you can do now and in future to prevent a reoccurrence.

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