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Mistakes Happen…

…it’s how we deal with mistakes that count. The universe must want me to learn something important because within 30 hours, two distinct situations occurred to illustrate this point. In one instance, I was on the mistake-maker side and in the second instance I was on the receiving end of someone else’s mistake. And in both cases, I’m not at all sure that I handled the mistakes well. Here’s another installment of my not-so-newly created series called I Screw Up So You Don’t Have To.

Mistake #1: Chris as Mistake-Maker
I’m working with a client on several different projects, each one different in its complexity, scale, and timeframe. It’s a client that I like and enjoy working with. And I feel that we have a good working relationship. We first discussed these projects back in November and I worked on them up through December. Then I took a two week holiday retreat and promptly neglected this client’s work when I returned. It wasn’t intentional and the work wasn’t entirely forgotten – it just took a back seat to other work that felt more pressing these past few weeks.

You’re probably thinking it’s not too surprising that I received rather curt and angry voicemail and email messages on Friday asking for an immediate update. My apology was met with, “That does me no good. What are you going to do? I expect a full accounting by Tuesday.” Now, I have a client who undoubtedly feels pissed and betrayed…and truly for good reason.

Mistake #2: Chris as Mistake-Receiver

The next day, I took the family to one of our favorite local pizza joints for dinner. We ordered a small cheese pizza for the girls and a medium meateaters for Carrie and me. Around 15 minutes later, our server showed up with the meateaters, but no cheese. We all thought that maybe he’d be right back to bring the cheese pizza. A couple of minutes passed and it becomes clear that a cheese pizza is not coming. So I visited the register and asked about the cheese pizza. I got blank, confused looks in return. There was no cheese pizza. Now, I’m starting to get pissed and insisted that they need to get moving on making the pizza that I paid for. Then, one of the folks from behind the counter came and asked me again whether I paid for a pizza and asked me to confirm the size, crust, toppings, political affiliation, next-of-kin, etc. He said, “We’re just trying to track down this order.” Okay, now I’m definitely pissed. He’s here trying to track down an order rather than make the actual damn pizza. I make my second trip to the counter and discover that apparently the cheese pizza was not included in the original order (but it should have been because the gal taking the order asked me what type of crust we wanted). The kick in the pants was the fact they still charged me $2.64 even though I argued that I should not be charged at all.

Roughly 13 minutes later, the gal who took our original order brought the pizza and apologized. She said, “I didn’t do it on purpose.” The thing was that she was right. She didn’t intentionally screw up and I told her so.

So, what’s the learning here?

Learning #1: Be more forgiving of mistakes. Rarely does someone screw up on purpose…that would be blatant and willful sabotage. Yeah, sometimes screw ups are due to incompetence or lack of care on the part of another person. But more often than not, mistakes are made for more innocent reasons. I guess at the root of how we view mistakes is whether we believe people are good or bad. And what I need to remember is that perfection is bullshit and I’m immensely capable of screwing things up at a moment’s notice. It’s the whole glass house thing.

Learning #2: Accept the mistake and move forward. Coming back to my intro, mistakes happen and it’s what we do after the mistake that matters most. If we screw up yet blow it off, then we’ve compounded the mistake by not taking ownership and figuring out how to make things right. Imagine my reaction if the pizza folks had – rather than try to make it into my problem – quickly said they would bring us a free cheese pizza and some breadsticks for the girls while they waited. For my client, I now have the job of determining what her “breadsticks” are.

Learning #3: Be more emotionally-aware. Being on the mistake-maker side, I understand my client’s emotions. She’s angry and frustrated because I’ve put her in a bad spot with her executives and board members. However, there’s a part of me that’s a bit embarrassed by my behavior as a mistake-receiver. There are times when I allow my emotions to get the better of me and raise more hell than I should to get what I want. Even those of us who coach and advise others on how to best navigate professional relationships are challenged to heed our own words. See learning #1 above.

Learning #4: Keep the focus on learning. This post is my example of learning from mistakes. It’s my way of reflecting on what I can do better in the future. Mistakes aren’t bad…they’re essential if we choose to grow. If we’re not making mistakes, we’re not trying hard enough. So, let’s keep learning.

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