Wednesday, August 24, 2011

What to do when you screw up

I screwed up at work. Details are not important. We all screw up in a number of ways: We make a bad decision, we behave poorly, or we just make a mistake ("Hmmm, it was such a small change, who would have thought it would have taken the entire stage environment down"), etc.

So you're telling me icebergs are bad things?

However you get there, you find yourself in the uncomfortable situation of having caused a problem and now having some degree of scrutiny coming at you. There are three ways you can handle it (hint: two of them are not good):
  • Aggressively snap back. "I wouldn't have made the mistake in the first place if so and so hadn't done such and such."
  • Get all passive and pouty. "Fine, I'll just do exactly like I'm told, Now, exactly, how do you want me to do my job?"
  • Take the beating and move on.
 I would never advocate deliberately making a mistake, but the truth is that mistakes can have an upside. People will watch how you handle yourself. When I used to play golf, I would occasionally land in the sand trap. So do the pros. The difference is that it would take me three strokes to get out and my exit shot generally landed on another fairway. Pros get out in one shot and put it next to the hole.

The aggressive reaction will be your first and instinctive one. Find something to distract you for 24 hours until it passes. Updating your resume is a good activity for a number of reasons. For one, it restores your self-esteem. It can also come in handy if it turns out that this was a really really major screw up.

When the aggressive reaction passes, you slip into the passive one. Have a drink and keep reminding yourself that this is a much bigger deal to you than it is to them. Go back to work with a bounce in your step.

Then take the beating. Admit the screw up, have a recovery plan, and get back to business. Do something visible that shows you have moved on and you are back in the saddle. It's better if that something is unrelated to the screw up. Something that establishes "Storm's moved on, nothing to see here."

Just like golf, people remember the recovery stroke that lands in the hole, not the slice that got you into the sand trap.

1 comment:

bozoette said...

A good grovel can also work wonders. ;-)