A couple years ago, I did a major closet-cleaning.
At the bottom of a box, I found a speeding ticket. I got this ticket in 1999. There it was, a photo of me, driving peacefully along at the flow of traffic at College and Drake, paying no attention to my speed. But I did see the flash at the side of the road, and I knew I’d been had.
I got proof a few days later when the ticket arrived in my mailbox. I don’t remember what the fine was, but I remember being mightily upset about it.
I paid the fine. I learned not to go through that intersection without watching my speed. And I completely forgot about the ticket until I cleaned out my closet two years ago.
So no big deal.
We all get speeding tickets, we forget doctor appointments and we make embarrassing typos on Facebook.
We feel shaken to the core by our mistakes, we pay our dues, and we take our lessons to heart and build new habits.
Then we forget about the incident.
That seems like a healthy way to deal with mistakes.
But what about the mistakes we make with clients?
When we take on a business, mistakes move to a whole different level.
Not only do they make us feel defective, but they embarrass us in front of the world. They can affect our reputations and our livelihoods. They can affect the people we aim to serve.
Well, in my 20 years of business, I’ve made plenty of mistakes.
So today, I’d just like to share a few tips I’ve learned along the way (sometimes the hard way).
It can be so easy to react from fear and defensiveness. Don’t judge it, just feel it. Don’t blame or apologize until you’ve done this part.
Assess the damage.
Who has been hurt?
What was your role in it?
Acknowledge the mistake.
Speak to any hurt parties, acknowledge your mistake and the pain you imagine it may have caused.
I’m a big believer in apology. But I also realize that some business cultures still treat apology as a sign of weakness, and you wouldn’t want to give them reason to doubt you. Other times, a faux pas is so minor as to be awkward to bring it up. If it’s appropriate to apologize, be brief.
Or commit to fixing it, and communicate this to your client/customer.
Give your client a reason to appreciate your resourcefulness!
Ask: What can be done to avoid this mistake in the future?
Put any new systems in place.
Move on and let go of guilt and shame.
And if you’re a conscientious, sensitive entrepreneur, this may be the hardest part!
Self-compassion is truly in order. Take a look at the person you were when you made your mistake. What did you know, and what was your intent? You can do better now, and you know that. But remember that you did your very best with what you had.
And know you’re not alone. People make mistakes every day, have made mistakes all through history, and will continue to make mistakes.
As Karla McLaren points out in her blog post on Embracing guilt and shame:
To be guiltless means to be free of mark or experience, as if you’re a blank slate. It’s not a sign of intelligence or growth, because guiltlessness exists only in people who have not yet lived.
So I hope you’ll be kind to yourself as you move through this process.
By the way, the speeding ticket I found in my closet? I’m pretty sure I threw that away. But if I happen to find it, I’ll post it here. 🙂