The 3 Ways to Handle a Mistake

My friend, Scott, loves his Lab, Charlie. It’s a young, chocolate Lab, with tons of energy and a playful spirit. Unfortunately, over the past couple of weeks, Scott’s neighbors have been complaining that Charlie is a bit too rambunctious. He has been blamed for tearing up their yards, scaring their cats, and licking the front doors.

Last weekend, I ran over to Scott’s house to drop off something I had borrowed. As he opened the door, Charlie snuck out, ran to the neighbor’s yard, and started chasing their cat. Darting in and out of every barricade she could find, the cat took led Charlie on an adventure. Through a garden, between the bushes, and around the house. When the cat finally got away, there were trampled flowers and dirt spread across the driveway.

Scott was beside himself and knew his neighbor would be irate when he arrived home. He had three options, all of which reminded me of how service providers can handle issues when they inevitably occur while serving their clients.

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Be Proactive

You can acknowledge the error, proactively fix it, and put together a plan to ensure that it never happens again.

Imagine what would happen if Scott had cleaned up the driveway, replaced the flowers, and headed over to greet his neighbor as he arrived home.

“Joe, I wanted you to know that Charlie got out again this morning. I went ahead and cleaned up the mess and took the liberty to replace your petunias. I couldn’t find the same color yellow, but I hope that the white and pink ones I chose are alright. I also wanted you to know that I’ve called the fence company and they are coming out next week to give me an estimate. I know I need to figure out how to contain Charlie. I’m going to have one put in as soon as possible”

How could Joe respond? He could be an ass, but it’s not all that likely. He’d most likely be gracious, accept the apology, and let Scott know that he shouldn’t worry about the color of the petunias.

Be Reactive

The second way to handle a mistake is to be reactive. You can apologize when you’re confronted and do what you can to make it up.

Imagine what would happen if Joe got home and confronted Scott about Charlie. “I’m sorry Joe, let me come over and help clean it up. I’ll make sure to go out tomorrow morning and look for some new petunias.”

Joe would be frustrated. He’d have a right to be upset and even if he were gracious, he probably wouldn’t be all too happy with Scott. At the very least, the experience would leave a bad taste in his mouth that would have to work itself out over time.

There’s nothing necessarily anything wrong with handling things this way, but it’s not confidence building.

Be Oblivious

The final way to handle it is to be oblivious – not to what has happened (that’d be just flat out wrong), but to the impact.

Imagine what would happen if Joe returned home and confronted an oblivious Scott about Charlie. “Huh? He’s just a youthful dog. This kind of stuff happens in life. What’s your problem? If that stupid cat of yours didn’t dart out of your yard, he would never have gone over there”.

Being proactive strengthens a relationship. Being reactive puts it on ice. Being oblivious can and will destroy it.

[reminder]How do you respond to your mistakes – even if they are not really your fault? Are you up front and proactive? Do you take responsibility and proactively solve problems? Or do you hide from the truth?[/reminder]

One Comment Add yours

  1. Great suggestions David. I’d take it one step further. Charlie doesn’t know he’s doing anything wrong. Oh sure, he gets yelled at once in awhile, but he knows he’s loved and he really doesn’t know the implications of his actions or how to change them. He needs a “professional” trainer. Someone who would work with him over a period of time to encourage preferred behavior and to correct him when he strays too far off line. In business we call this an executive coach.

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