It happens to all of us. We are moving too fast and we send an email the wrong person or a private message is sent to a group chat. In my case, when I am moving too fast I am a poor scanner producing terrible typos or missing important information in a document.
Too often these gaffes have torn down the professional reputation that I work hard to build up.
My first instinct might be to argue that my oversight does not matter. Through years of experience, I already know that is a losing argument. My next instinct is to want to crawl under the covers and hate myself. Of course, not only is that not productive, it hurts a lot. Hating on yourself is an incredibly painful activity.
To pull myself out from the covers and move forward, I have developed a few other techniques to deal with my career gaffes, because no matter how good my intentions are, I know I will continue to commit them.
1. Own it
I made a mistake, it is my mistake, I own it. I don’t try to blame others or the lighting, or that I was missing my glasses, or that someone else was supposed to do something else.
Whenever someone else makes a mistake and I see them running through all these excuses I feel like my time is being wasted with reasoning rather than results and my trust of that person begins to fade. Own it, apologize for it, and then fix it if you can.
You can turn a gaffe around by showing that you are coachable, that you are focused on results as opposed to your own ego and that you are easy to work with.
2. Forgive Yourself
I may not be forgiven by those who were affected by my gaffe, but it is vital that I forgive myself. Sure, I still might call myself many harsh names and want to physically beat myself up but at the end of the day, I have to find a way to forgive myself so that I can move forward. It does not matter if others don’t forgive me. They can walk away. I am not able to get away from myself.
3. Learn from your Mistake
Why was this mistake made? This is not about finding excuses but finding reasons and figuring out what changes need to be made to keep this mistake from happening over and over again. More often than not the mistake is made because of a bad habit, such as my habit to move too fast or have multiple things going on at once. Habits are hard to break and most likely this was not the first time I made the mistake and will not be the last. Each time I have to remind myself why the mistake was made, feel the pain, and once again make a commitment to change my habits.
4. Accept the Consequences
Some of my mistakes have cost me lots of money or my reputation or friends or the opportunity to work with really cool people. It sucks, it really does. I could wallow in the depression of what my mistake cost me or I could decide that I live in a very big world with lots of other cool people and opportunities and focus on finding out what might be next for me.
I accept the consequences but I don’t let the consequences stop me.
5. Move On
Whether or not I lost anything from my gaffe, I am ready to move on. If I am still working with that client or team that was affected by the gaffe, I don’t bring it up again after I have apologized and fixed it. People have short memories and if I am not screwing up constantly they will forget it and all the good that I am working on will stay top of mind. If I don’t move on then I am just keeping the mistake top of mind, not only for those involved, but for myself as well, and that is only going to get me deeper in a hole full of career gaffes.
This post was inspired by the gaffes I made today. Not one, but a few. I wrote it as a way to coach myself out of the self-defeating wallow of sorrow. I hope it helps others as well.