Four Ways To Use A Mistake To Your Advantage

When you make a mistake at work, it's important to handle it in the right way. Instead of hiding or hoping the problem goes away on its own, it's better to own up to your mistake. Art Markman, Ph.D., a professor of psychology and marketing at the University of Texas at Austin, says this often begins with a difficult conversation with your boss.

While you might think a mistake is a guaranteed way to lose your boss' trust, you can use your mistakes to increase their trust in you. Your boss wants to know that nothing that will go too seriously wrong. If they know that you will come to them and alert them of any problems you may have caused, they don't need to look over your shoulder all the time. In this issue of Promotional Consultant Today, we share Dr. Markman's thoughts on how to make your mistakes work for you.

1. Pull off the bandage. When you were a kid, did you ever slowly pull off a Band-Aid, too afraid to rip it off? Ripping it off would have sped up the entire process and caused you much less pain in the long run, but that first step was painful. Dr. Markman says the same principle applies when you make mistakes at work. As soon as you find out that you have made a mistake, prepare what you're going to say to your boss and then reach out to talk about it. If your boss requires an appointment, set one up right away—with some urgency. If you can pop your head into their office to talk, then do that. The less time you wait, the better.

The main reason you want to do it right away (beyond not having to worry about it for too long) is that the less time that goes by between a mistake and your admission, the more quickly you and others in the organization can fix any negative consequences. Waiting to talk about a mistake runs the risk of compounding the consequences of your error.

2. Be clear about what went wrong. It's often difficult to make a clear statement about a problem. It is easy to slip into a long roundabout story about what happened—complete with all the reasons why you acted as you did. Instead, Dr. Markman suggests starting with a few simple declarative sentences. "I did X. As a result, Y happened." You can provide more context afterward, but it's critical to lay out clearly what happened. That's the thing your boss really needs to know first. If you bury that in lots of explanation, then your boss can't help you deal with the consequences of the error. It will only create more frustration.

3. Suggest a fix. Many mistakes have costly consequences, whether you lose money or damage a client relationship. Tell your boss anything you have done already to try to fix the problem. In addition, if you have other suggestions, lay them out. Offer to do whatever needs to be done to minimize the damage that arises from an error. Taking responsibility means doing whatever you can to repair the problem—including calling a client or customer, explaining the problem and offering to make it right.

4. Plan for the future. It's important to think through how you will handle situations like this in the future. Identify what went wrong. Did you act too quickly? Did you neglect to check your work? Did you listen to someone you shouldn't have? After the dust settles on your mistake, sit down with your boss again and plan exactly how you will deal with situations like this in the future. Ultimately, this approach will help your supervisor to recognize that you can handle responsibility, because you take ownership of your mistakes and work to correct them.

The next time you make a mistake, follow the guidance above to use it to your advantage.

Source: Art Markman, Ph.D. is a professor of psychology and marketing at the University of Texas at Austin. He's the author of Smart Thinking, Habits of Leadership, Smart Change, Brain Briefs and most recently, Bring Your Brain to Work.

filed under July 2019
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