How to Deal With Making Mistakes

Mistakes happen all the time. How we deal with them can be very different.

I want to tell you about one mistake that gained national interest and some hints and tips on how to take on responsibility when making mistakes.

Is it a Phoney?

On Sunday Manchester United were due to play their last game of the season against Bournemouth.

Any Manchester United game comes with huge home support and attendances of 70,000 or more are common.

A suspect device, found in the ground, led to an evacuation and the game called off.

The device was a mobile phone attached to a pipe, with wires hanging out from the phone.

If you have seen the picture of the device you will know how realistic it looks.

On Wednesday, before the game, an independent security firm carried out security drills in the ground.

The drills included sniffer dogs and security officials searching for suspect devices. The devices looked like a mobile phone, some attached to pipes, with wires hanging out… You can see where this is going right?

How the training device stayed unnoticed between Wednesday and Sunday is a different topic altogether.

So a huge mistake with 70,000 plus fans sent home.

Money will have been spent on tickets, food and club merchandise. You also have the poor Bournemouth fans to consider, traveling hundreds of miles to support their team, now with no game to watch.

There will have also been the panic and concern from the fans in the ground, as well as relatives at home once the news broke.

One mistake, one failure and the effect was huge.

What Happens Next?

In most high-profile cases like this two things happen. Silence (it is best to say nothing and hope it blows over) or there will be more spin than a Frisbee Throwing Championship.

There was no silence, zero spin and what happened next was refreshing and unusual.

The owner of the security company spoke to the press and said the following:

“Ultimately I am responsible, I went up to Manchester to conduct the training at the club. We have a team of five, but this week I went up and did it myself.

He later went on to say:

“This mistake is entirely mine. I have to take full responsibility for leaving a training item behind on Wednesday.”

We have all been the root cause of a mistake where we wish the ground would swallow us up.

This was his.

If you have got it wrong I believe you should hold your hands up and accept the responsibility of this.

If it goes wrong then suck it up and take the hit.

You Want to Blame Me?

Your peers will respect you for doing so, it may reduce the pressure on your team and it will be a valuable lesson in how you felt.

If you take responsibility now we have a much better chance of minimising the chance of bad things happening in the future.

If you are struggling with the concept of admitting when it is your fault, here a some hints and tips that may help to take away some of the sting.

How to Deal with Making Mistakes

Focus on the Solution not the Problem

How many times have you been stuck in a meeting where all anyone wanted to talk about was the problem?

Zero productivity and nothing is achieved, apart from leaving the room feeling frustrated there is no solution!

You have an opportunity to influence everyone by focusing on the solution. The problem/mistake/issue (call it whatever) has already happened. Focusing on the future and the fix you are going to apply is more healthy than regurgitating the details of the problem and who is to blame.

No one is to Blame

Whoever caused the mistake (sometimes there is nobody responsible, things just happen) there is no point in apportioning blame.

They already feel bad, are hurting and are kicking themselves – they don’t need you making it worse.

Teams that blame others become toxic quickly. Great teams pull together, work through the problem and focus on the solution.

Focus on What You Can Influence, Not What is of Concern

I have spoken about Stephen Covey’s model of influence vs concern before.

This point is a close relative of the first point, above.

You might be concerned about the extra work the fix may involve. You may be worried about how others may perceive you. You might be worried about how the team are going to recover. None of this matters. What matters is what you can influence.

If you focus on what you can influence and control you will achieve far more, than worrying about what is of concern.

If you jump forward six months I guarantee that 99% of any concerns you had did not even materialise.

Put Controls in Place

Once you have worked out a fix for the problem how will you avoid this happening again?

Most mistakes are due to a lapse in concentration, an oversight or a drop in personal standards.

How can you put warning markers down so this flags up a potential risk in the future? This way you can act upon it before the mistake happens. You can do this at both individual and team level.

If you can work out what controls will be effective and feed this back to your boss, they will love it!

Will it Matter in 12 Months Time?

When mistakes happen there will be several layers of severity, depending on what happens.

Accepting responsibility will help you to move on to solution mode, but we do tend to be our own biggest critic.

Some of your mistakes will stay with you for a while after, even if the mistake is a small one. You may have that nagging Gremlin, sat on your shoulder, trying to gnaw away at your confidence.

Perspective is important in moments like this, so ask yourself this question ‘Will it matter in 12 Months Time?’

This is not to take away from what has happened, but it is important for you to realise that rarely is any mistake permanent.

In a year’s time you will have moved on to other pieces or work and will have had more success than you will have had failure.

Knowing this means you can turn down the volume of the Gremlin on your shoulder.

So, the next time you encounter failure and you know you are responsible, take the following steps:

Take a deep breath, look the other person in the eye and say the scary words “I got it wrong, it is my fault. Let’s see what we can do to fix it.”

You will be amazed by what can be achieved.

Believe and Take Action.

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Ian Ruane

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