Fixing Mistakes: 7 Steps for Any Situation

by Annie Mueller on 9 March 2011 3 comments

We all goof sometimes... Though many mistakes are minor, and don't cause much of a ripple in the world, some mistakes hurt other people and have to be dealt with quickly and completely. Here's a 7-step process for dealing with any mistake, whether it's something on a business or a personal level.

1. Acknowledge the Mistake Directly

Don't add to the mistake already made by ignoring it in the hopes that it will go away. Whether you've messed up on a customer order or forgotten your spouse's birthday, ignoring the failure won't make it seem less important; it will just make you seem like more of a jerk. Be straightforward. Directly and briefly, but honestly, acknowledge that you messed up. State specifically what you did and how much you regret it.

2. Take Responsibility

The automatic response of human nature is to jump into self-defense mode; at no time is this response stronger than when we are forced to acknowledge our own shortcomings. Resist the urge to find somewhere (or someone) to put the blame, even if it's justified. There are always extenuating circumstances, and most of us don't mean to mess up. But all the good intentions don't change the fact that you've made a mistake. Don't point fingers or use circumstances to make an excuse; doing so only makes you sound like you care more about getting out of trouble than really dealing with the problem you've caused, however unintentionally.

3. Apologize

Those two little words — I'm sorry — need to be heard by the person who's bearing the brunt of your mistake. "Please forgive me" is nice, too. It shows that you understand this person has a choice of whether or not to forgive the mistake. It acknowledges that you need forgiveness. And it puts the responsibility on the offended person, forcing them to either accept the apology, and thus, start moving on, or choose to ignore or refuse your apology and leave you with nothing else to do. Nobody wants to be the bad guy and refuse to accept an apology. If you don't verbally, directly apologize, however, the person who has been hurt doesn't have to make that choice to forgive and move on.

4. Offer a Practical Way to Make Up for the Mistake

In a few, rare cases, there's really nothing you can do to make up for what's been done. Perhaps you accidentally hit a neighbor's beloved family dog with your car and killed it; offering to run out and buy a new puppy isn't going to fix things, so don't offer. However, in most cases, you can think of a way to make amends. If you've broken, lost, or otherwise damaged property, you should offer to pay for it. If you've hurt someone you're close to on a deep level, you might offer to go to counseling together. If you're at a loss for what to offer, ask: "What can I do to make this up to you?"

5. Give the Other Person Time to Think and Respond

The deeper the hurt, the more difficult it is for a person to let go of it. Don't force an immediate response. People need time to think, to process, and to let go of hurt feelings and offense. Make your direct acknowledgment, take responsibility, apologize, and offer a way to make amends; then step back and say something like, "I'll give you time to think this over." Offer another, specific time to talk so you don't forget to follow through with what you've said.

6. Listen and Respond

During both the initial conversation and when you follow up, take the time to let the other person talk. Sometimes what people need most is just to share how deeply they were hurt, or the repercussions of the mistake that's been made. Venting isn't fun to listen to, but it helps people sort through the feelings and get to the bottom line, which is where you need to both get in order to fix the mistake and move on.

7. Do What You've Said You Will Do

The last point is most important: if you've offered a way to make up for the mistake, and it's been accepted, follow through quickly. Failing to do what you've said you will only bring the mistake back in an even more unpleasant way and make it almost impossible for you to be taken seriously when you try to apologize again.

How do you deal with mistakes?

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Guest's picture

Great post. I think these are things we often try to do but go about them haphazardly and piecemeal. It's really helpful to see them lined out in steps. Human nature being what it is, these are also HARD to do without such encouragement. Thanks!

Guest's picture

A sincere apology is also important. When rectifying mistakes, one must be genuine. The person receiving the apology will sense at once if you are sincere or not. We are not perfect and they will realize that. An honest mistake is an honest mistake. Own your mistake and they will understand.

Guest's picture
Guest

I love your points here. I reposted in on my own blog:
http://i-made-a-mistake.com/2012/08/14/is-it-enough/