How To Make Mistakes


We all make mistakes. We type the wrong command. We use the wrong verb tense in an article. We leave out a critical step when explaining a process. It’s something that happens all the time. It’s avoidable through careful planning, but how do you handle things when the avoidable becomes unavoidable?

Making Amends, Not Mistakes

Once a mistake is out in the open and noticeable, it’s done. You can’t pretend it didn’t happen or that it’s not affecting things. That’s when you need to own up to what happened and fix it. Sometimes that’s not always easy. Even the best person is reticent to admit to being fallible. So the process for fixing a mistake isn’t always easy. But it is important.

  1. Realize You’ve Made A Mistake – As amazing as it sounds, this is sometimes the hardest part of the deal. It’s easy to see that you’ve typed in the wrong command to a router and that the output isn’t what you were expecting. But what about those errors you don’t immediately catch. How about hearing the incorrect name at a dinner party and calling someone by the wrong name for an entire night? Or incorrectly spelling or pronouncing a word for years because you never knew it was wrong. Often, the hardest part of the mistake is realizing you’ve made it. Hopefully, someone will point it out to you in a way that doesn’t immediately put you on the defensive.
  2. Apologizing Specifically For The Mistake – I’m rather tough on my kids when it comes to apologizing for their mistakes. Instead of a simple, “I’m sorry”, they have to apologize specifically for what they did wrong. For example, “I’m sorry for hitting my sister with the inflatable baseball bat after you told me not to swing it.” Why am I so tough? Because putting the action in the apology helps reinforce what happened and why is was wrong or was a mistake. The next time you make a mistake and have to apologize to a manager or a customer, try wording the apology with inclusion of what happened. “I’m sorry I typed in the wrong OSPF command and cause the routing table to disappear.” You’d be surprised how receptive people are to finding out what the mistake was.
  3. Create A Plan Of Remediation – Okay, you admitted what you did wrong. Now, how are you going to fix it? That’s the last part of realizing your mistake. You did something wrong and you admitted it. It’s time to figure out how to not do it again. In the case of incorrect commands, it’s as simple as typing the right command in this time. But in the case of other things, like systemic behaviors, it’s more important to realize that you may need to do something repeatedly to correct the behavior. If you’re constantly using “on-premise” incorrectly, it may take some practice before you’re using it as intended.

Each of these steps is important. You can’t fix the mistake until you realize you’ve made it, apologized for it, and planned on how to fix it.


Tom’s Take

Mistakes will happen. How you overcome them says a lot about your character. The worst thing in the world is a person that believes they are completely infallible. These kinds of people never think they’ve done anything wrong, so they don’t know that they still have much to learn. Experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want. And the best source of experience is mistakes. The key to learning from them is simple: recognize, apologize, and prioritize the fix. If you can manage all of those things, you have the chance to grow and learn.

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