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Sorry! Mistakes are Learning Opportunities!

Own Your Mistakes

You can't learn anything from a mistake until you admit that you've made it. So, take a deep breath and admit to yours, and then take ownership of it. Saying "sorry" takes courage, but it's far better to come clean than to hide your error or, worse, to blame others for it. Ultimately, people will remember your courage and integrity long after they've forgotten the original mistake.

Remember, if they hear of it from another source, your reputation may suffer and another opportunity to learn will be lost.

Reframe the Error

How you view your mistakes determines the way that you react to them, and what you do next.

You'll probably view your error in a purely negative light for as long as any initial shock and discomfort about it persists. However, if you can reframe your mistake as an opportunity to learn, you will motivate yourself to become more knowledgeable and resilient.

Stop beating yourself up, pause for a moment to reflect, and start thinking about how you can gain from the situation.

Analyse Your Mistake

You nnow eed to analyse your mistake honestly and objectively. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What was I trying to do?

  • What went wrong?

  • When did it go wrong?

  • Why did it go wrong?

Start with the error and keep asking "Why?" until you get to the root cause.

Put Lessons Learned Into Practice

The danger at this stage is that work pressures force you back to your routine tasks and habitual behaviours. The lessons that you identified in Step 3 could languish, unfulfillled, as mere good intentions. In other words, learning lessons is one thing, but putting them into practice is quite another!

Chances are, acting on what you've learned will require the discipline and motivation to change your habits. Doing so will help you to avoid self-sabotage in the future, and will allow you to reap the rewards and benefits of implementing better work practices.

Here, you need to identify the skills, knowledge, resources, or tools that will keep you from repeating the error.

Do so with care, though, because "quick fixes" will likely lead to further mistakes. Any actions that you take to implement your learning need to be enduring, and something that you can commit to.

If your mistake was a minor or a personal one, personal goals and action plans will lay the groundwork for implementing the lessons you've learned. They can give you a timescale to work to, and a list of the tasks that you'll need to complete.

The specific tools that you use from there on will depend on the particular lessons that you need to put into practice.

For example, if you learned that a mistake occurred because of your forgetfulness, aides-mémoire or greater attention to detail could help. If you found that your organisational skills were below par, digital planners and spreadsheets would be useful.

Or, if you discovered that an error occurred because of a cross-cultural misunderstanding, your communication skills might need a polish.

If the mistake was more organizational than personal, you may need to implement your learning in a more far-reaching way. Writing clearer procedures, for example, could help to ensure that more gets done without mistakes.

Review Your Progress

You may have to try out several ways to put your learning into practice before you find one that successfully prevents you from repeating past errors. From there, monitor the efficacy of your chosen tactic by reviewing the number and nature of mistakes that do – or don't! – still get made. Asking someone to hold you accountable can help you to stay committed to your new course of action.

Key Points

To err is human, and we don't have to punish ourselves for the mistakes that we make. They can be great opportunities to learn, and to develop on a personal, as well as an organizational, level. We just need to learn from them, and to put that learning into practice.

When you, or one of your team members, make a mistake:

  • Own up to it. Don't play the "blame game." This is detrimental in the long run, and you'll lose the potential for learning.

  • Reframe your mistake as an opportunity to learn and develop.

  • Review what went wrong, to understand and learn from your mistake.

  • Identify the skills, knowledge, resources, or tools that will keep you from repeating the error.

  • Review your progress.


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