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Recovery From Mistakes

Recovery From Mistakes

From Career Tips, 2010 Volume 8, August 2010

We all make mistakes. While obviously you want to avoid making them in the first place, the real secret is in what you do to recover from them.

In fact, many would argue that if you aren't regularly making mistakes, that is in itself the biggest mistake you can make. It means you aren't stretching yourself, trying new things and expanding your comfort zone.

In December, I presented a technique for addressing objections or other problems you might encounter in an interview, networking meeting, or other situation where you are trying to have an influential conversation. (See

What if you applied that method to help you recover from mistakes?

When we commit a faux pas, our natural tendency is to move on and try to minimize it, hoping no one will notice, or at least that they won't remember it. But if it's at all serious, that can instead start you down a negative spiral in their mind, from which it is difficult to recover.

What might happen if instead you just 'fess up and acknowledge you made one in the first place - in effect, applying the 'name that behavior' technique to yourself? Isn't that a much more powerful approach?

For example, suppose you gave a particularly weak answer to an interview question. What reaction might you get if you were to then say:

"You know, I realize I just gave you a terrible answer to that question. Let me try again."

Or what if you reflect on a one-on-one networking meeting that didn't go well, and realize it was something in how you acted, what you said, etc. You could call that person and be open about it:

"Jim, I realized that I probably came across a bit pushy in our meeting yesterday, and I just wanted to apologize. I never meant to (insert behavior), and hope I haven't damaged our relationship."

This approach in either situation is somewhat disarming, and has the potential to re-establish a potentially damaged relationship. It shows you to be self-aware and perceptive. It shows your willingness to admit an error - that you don't let your ego stop you in such cases. This is an excellent quality I would appreciate in a prospective member of my team!

So next time you make a mistake, try naming your own behavior, and then drop me a note to let me know what happens!