How to recover from mistakes

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Do you know how to recover from mistakes? The formula is simple — but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

By Ann Gomez

Mistakes happen. In fact, they’re inevitable.

Despite our good intentions and diligence, mistakes creep into our writing and our actions. We are human, after all.

But since we know mistakes are going to happen, it’s important to address them in the best way so we can gain back trust and restore our credibility.

Here’s what I suggest you do the next time your humanness strikes with a mistake.

1-Accept responsibility

This is the most important step. We want to own our mistake. We want to state clearly that we made a mistake. Even better, acknowledge the effect we had on others. “I’m sorry I missed the deadline for this white paper. I know you were relying on me and you had to work over the weekend to make up for my oversight.”

Resist being defensive or justifying your mistake. If you add, “But I was busy with other work” you will likely infuriate your listener. As you probably know, when you add “but”, you basically erase the previous statement, which in this case would mean you’re not truly owning your mistake.

It takes courage and confidence to accept responsibility unconditionally. Yes, you may have valid reasons behind your mistake — and you may have the chance to explain yourself once you’ve regained trust. Or you may find the other party is ready to move on once you’ve fully assumed responsibility.

2-Commit to doing better

The next step is to share your plan to do better. You might say, “I know we have another important deadline coming up and I plan to get you a draft on Monday, so you have extra time to review it.” Then follow through. This is where we want to be extra careful to not let procrastination, distraction, or other obstacles get in our way.

When it isn’t obvious to the other person, you want to let them know you’ve followed through on your plan to do better. Don’t coat this statement with a “told you so” tone. Instead, go for a humble comment like: “I’m committed to honouring my word. Thank you for giving me another chance.”

3-Move forward

Then, and most importantly, make sure you forgive yourself. Don’t keep apologizing and don’t beat yourself up for the mistake. We are often our own worst critics. But we have all made our fair share of mistakes.

Don’t let perfectionism stop you from achieving your great work. Once you’ve owned up and committed to doing better, absorb the lesson and move on. Don’t waste valuable energy regretting the past. Or, as artist Mary Engelbreit said, “Don’t look back. You’re not going that way.”

For more strategies you can use to set yourself up for success, see Ann’s latest book, Workday Warrior: A Proven Path to Reclaiming Your Time, published by Dundurn Press, 2022.

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