How to Handle Mistakes
Estimated Lesson Time: 4 minutes
Perhaps one of the largest and most well-known mistakes of all time was made by the Ford Motor Company back in the 70s. A poorly designed automobile named the “Pinto” had a severe weakness in the fuel tank, which greatly increased the chances of an explosion on impact. Although the design itself could be seen as a significant mistake, an even bigger mistake was the company’s decision to move forward with the production and sales of the Pinto regardless of the obvious danger to human lives. Why? A cost/benefit study was done which suggested that it would be “cheaper” for Ford to pay liability for burn deaths and injuries rather than modify the fuel tank to prevent the fires in the first place. This mistake not only cost hundreds of millions of dollars, but led to over 500 serious burn injuries and deaths as well [Source: motherjones.com]. Needless to say, this mistake was not handled in the best way, and the legal, ethical, and financial repercussions continue even today.
Hopefully, my sharing this horrible mistake in history at least helped you put your mistakes in perspective. We all make mistakes; some more serious than others. A balance must exist between trying to avoid mistakes and giving it your all. It should go without saying that mistakes that can result in death or injury to others should be avoided at all costs, but other mistakes that are less serious should be seen as setbacks and learning experiences. We all make mistakes, but it is how we recover from those mistakes that separate the winners from the losers.
When you make a mistake, your goal should be to better your situation. Very often, if handled correctly, a graceful recovery from a mistake can put you in a better situation than before the mistake was made. As usual, look for the positives in the situation and use your persuasive speaking skills to convince others of those benefits if necessary.
Here are some suggestions on how to best handle mistakes you make, or mistakes made by those for whom you are responsible.
- Take action to better the situation quickly. You may not always be able to correct the mistake right away, but you can do something to better the situation. The key is to act quickly.
- Do not call attention to your mistake unless it is necessary. Some mistakes do require public attention—as in the Ford incident. However, most mistakes can and do go unnoticed unless the one who makes the mistake calls attention to it. A good example of this is in public speaking. While giving speeches, I sometimes lose my place or skip some content, but the audience does not know it because I don't say “Whoops... I lost my place”—I simply continue on as if no mistake were made.
- Don’t play the blame game. If you made the mistake, or if someone for whom you are responsible made the mistake, take responsibility for the mistake. Admit your error and assure others that you are taking action to improve the situation. Trying to avoid responsibility for a mistake for which you are responsible does not say much for your character.
- Apologize. If your mistake negatively affects others, apologize, especially if they bring the mistake to your attention. Do not try to justify or explain your mistake, simply apologize.
- Use humor. When appropriate, use humor to draw attention away from your mistake and lighten up the situation. It is especially important to be able to laugh at your own mistakes.
It takes a person of character to deal with their own mistakes gracefully and effectively. This process is another one to which many people attribute their success. We all make mistakes, and we can all recover from our mistakes with a little effort, character, and positive mental attitude.
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Some discussion questions (some may not apply to this lesson):
- Have you implemented this idea in your life? How has it been working for you?
- Do you have any interesting stories related to this lesson? Do tell!
- What do you admire most about this person? (success biography days)