I’m a perfectionist. I don’t like to make mistakes, especially at work. You might feel the same way. But we’re all human, which means we will inevitably make the occasional slipup. As much as making errors makes me cringe, I’ve learned over the years that one of the best ways to diffuse the effects of the mistake is to own up to it. Admitting a mistake clears the air and allows me to get started on making things right as quickly as possible.
According to Michael Houlihan, coauthor along with Bonnie Harvey of The Barefoot Spirit: How Hardship, Hustle, and Heart Built a Bestselling Wine, admitting to mistakes at work can even be an opportunity to gain respect and loyalty.
“The fact is, everyone – and every company – makes mistakes,” said Houlihan. “Denying that they have happened usually exacerbates and magnifies an already awkward situation, because chances are, you aren’t fooling anyone and you appear insincere.”
Houlihan offers five ways your business can improve by admitting to mistakes:
1. Cop to it. Yes, it’s uncomfortable to admit that you or your company did something wrong. Uttering that mea culpa involves swallowing your pride and acknowledging that you are not, in fact, perfect. But in reality, no one’s perfect. The sooner you admit to the error, the faster you can move on to the next, more important stage: what you are going to do about the situation.
2. Recognize how the mistake happened. If you admit fault but then put the incident behind you, guess what? You’ve just increased the chances that it will happen again. It’s very important to investigate how and why an error occurred so that you can fix the faulty procedure or process. (Hey, EHS professionals, does this type of analysis sound familiar?)
3. Aim, don’t blame. What happens when a mistake involving your company really can be traced to someone else? While it’s easy (and temporarily satisfying) to point your finger and say, “Not my fault!” the truth is, if it happened on your watch and you are accountable for the finished product, you ultimately share the blame in the customer’s eyes. In this situation, get to the bottom of what happened and focus on what you and your company can do on your end to prevent the situation from reoccurring.
4. Write it down. If you successfully resolve a negative situation that was sparked by an error but then rub your hands together and continue with business as usual, you’re making a second misstep. According to Houlihan, if you don’t write down what happened and how to avoid it, you risk making the same mistake again – and miss the opportunity to pass your own experiences and lessons learned to everyone else in your company. So write it down.
5. Resolve that it won’t reoccur. Along with your apology, assure the injured parties that it – whatever “it” was – won’t happen again. Voluntarily describe how the mistake happened and what changes you will implement to prevent its reoccurrence. Most of all, explain how you and your company are going to make things right. Handling an error in this way will reinforce the fact that you are, ultimately, a trustworthy company that can be relied upon.
“People actually like a little imperfection now and then. It demonstrates a level of authenticity, vulnerability and humanity with which we all can identify,” said Houlihan. “So don’t miss out on these golden opportunities to show your integrity, reduce the drama, and improve the way your business operates. That is how you make mistakes right.”