We often see that, in spite of our best efforts, errors big and small creep into our lives, processes and organisations every now and then. No doubt, mistakes do have serious repercussions at times; yet, brooding over them will lead us nowhere. On the contrary, we must try to bounce back by effectively tackling them. However, there is a hitch here. Usually, whenever we go wrong, we experience a psychological fear of ridicule. This fear prevents us from being open about our mistakes. Instead of trying to overcome or rectify the mistake, we actually try to hide it or worse blame it on others.
But to err is human. Isn’t it? If errors happen with everyone, why should fear surround mistakes? Fear arises only when the response to mistakes from those around you is likely to be unfavourable. For instance, in the organisational context, if a mistake is followed by scornful looks of co-workers and punitive response of managers, people naturally feel deterred to accept it. Fearing mistakes, employees even avoid taking risks altogether. This is certainly not a good sign for the organisation. As a manager, you can neither allow mistakes to perpetuate nor let risk avoidance to take over. Hence, the most effective recourse would be to create a favourable climate where mistakes are candidly discussed, rectified and overcome. And to build this atmosphere, the best method is to lead by example. Simply put, you must stop pretending to be right all the time and start taking responsibility for any mistake you make. It encourages the team members also to come out in the open whenever things go wrong.
It is not just exemplary handling of your own mistakes, but the way you react to mistakes of your team matters too. To promote the behaviour of a learner in the person making the mistake, you must carefully word your response and handle the situation tactfully.
Let’s say, a team member comes to you and admits that he has messed up an important client order. You will naturally be upset. Yet, you must take care not to reveal your displeasure. Instead, try to ward off his fears and encourage him to take corrective action immediately. Here are some suggestions to help you handle mistakes diplomatically.
Empathise: Your team member is disappointed with his/her performance and approaches you in a worried state. Any expression of anger from your end will shatter them totally. So, keep your emotions under control and give them a patient hearing. Try and acknowledge their feelings.
Welcome honesty: To admit a mistake one needs courage and honesty. Appreciate the team members for displaying these qualities. Emphasise that their professionalism means a lot to you. Let them understand that mistakes should be viewed not as setbacks but as opportunities to learn.
Boost employee confidence: When an employee blows a key order; certainly it is also a big blow to his/her self-confidence. Say a few words of encouragement to help him/her regain confidence.
Shift the focus to learning: Go to the root of the problem. Explain what went wrong and how it can be prevented in future. Make sure they learn important lessons for the future from your interaction.
Help them rectify: Encourage team members to correct their mistakes. Ask them to come up with ideas to salvage the situation. Give your suggestions too and if possible tell them about any similar personal experiences you have had. How you pacified the client and won back trust in those situations will broaden their perspective and help them solve the current issue.
Mistakes cannot be totally prevented, but can be avoided to a great extent if certain precautions are taken. However, when a mistake does happen, if an honest and safe discussion about it is possible, corrections can be made at the earliest. To sum up, “You fail, not when you make a mistake but when you refuse to take responsibility and work towards improvement.”