Shift a Mistake

Leadership, Professional Development Comments Off on Shift a Mistake

I was feeling excited about sending out the first Shift Coaching newsletter, and also a bit on edge – I wanted it to be perfect. After reading it over several times, I clicked “send” and off it went. Feeling good about meeting my self-imposed deadline, and having completed an important item on my to-do list, I carried on with my day.

An hour later I received a phone call from a friend who had just received the newsletter and politely pointed out that my phone number contained extra digits. My heart sank. Really? Are you kidding me? How could I have missed that? [Expletive!] This initial reaction was immediately, if not simultaneously, followed by an internal judge (or “saboteur” often referred to in coaching) who had all sorts of nasty things to say to me. I’ll spare you the details, but the basic message was – “You Idiot.” So much for perfection.

After this initial wave of disappointment and self-attack subsided, I turned to the coaching tools (outlined below) I use with clients [my responses in brackets]. Please keep these steps in mind for the next time you make a mistake, but for now, take a moment and think about a recent blunder you made and see how they would apply.

  1. Get in reality (state what happened) & take responsibility. [phone number was incorrect; it was my mistake]
  2. Notice your saboteur – what is he/she telling you and what is the impact? [“you idiot”; has me feeling stupid]. Is this voice being helpful? If not, put it aside.
  3. What action can you take now to correct the mistake? [unfortunately none, no way to “un-send” the email]
  4. Is there someone you need to inform and/or apologize to (boss, colleague, spouse, etc.)? [the part of me that really wanted to get it perfect, no one else in this particular example]
  5. Be prepared for/accept other people’s reactions. When you make a mistake that impacts others, they may react strongly (irritation, anger, disappointment). Let them have their reaction, stay centered, responsible, and offer solutions. Let them know what actions you are planning to take to rectify the mistake, and your answers to the next two questions.
  6. What actions you can take to prevent this from happening again? [ask others to review, delay sending if needed, avoid last minute changes]
  7. What is the important learning here? [don’t rush, ask for help]

We all make mistakes. It’s part of being human. To clarify, I am not advocating for mediocrity, and wish my phone number was correct. The important point is that we have a choice in how we handle mistakes when we make them. You can either shrivel up in a corner as a helpless victim to your saboteur, or you put that voice aside, get in action, and clean things up. Then find the important lesson to be learned in order to be better next time. From this perspective, mistakes can actually occur as growth opportunities.

I work with clients to separate their true selves from the voice of their saboteur. They identify the important learnings to be gained from their mistakes, and shift from a place of being wrong and powerless, to a place of corrective action and learning. Clients tell me this new perspective gives them freedom, confidence, and self-acceptance. It also allows them to be kinder to themselves and in touch with their own humanity. We are all doing our best – something to consider when someone you know makes a mistake.

Thank you for reading, and if you found any typos, I don’t want to know!

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On November 15, 2011
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