What To Do When You Make A Mistake

Posted by Duane Cummings on 11/20/2019


Let’s face it, we all make mistakes. The question is, what to do when we make one? Over the years I've learned to keep it simple...so I look to the first letter of the alphabet for the answers. The following is my go-to “A” list when handling mistakes:

Acknowledge – The moment you realize or have been notified that you’ve made a mistake, your first step should be to acknowledge it. There is strength in standing up and facing the situation. Take responsibility and own it…more often than not, people will respect and trust you more for doing so. Unfortunately, all too often people hide their mistakes, or worse yet they blame someone else. I believe we should all be the kind of person that “tells on yourself,” it usually pays off in the end.

Apologize – This initial apology may not go over well, but you should give it none the less. Don’t add the reason why it happened, nor attempt to justify. A simple and sincere apology is what’s needed and then it's time to get on with doing your best to fix the situation. 

Ask – After acknowledging you should always ask for advice (another "A" word) from anyone impacted or affected by your mistake. "How would they like you to rectify the situation? What are the consequences? Is there a way to turn the mistake into a win?" Don't assume you know what needs to be done to fix the situation, things may have changed due to your mistake. Unfortunately, this is where you might also find out that what you thought was a small mistake, may in fact be much larger.

Action – There’s nothing worse than watching someone make a mistake and then not take swift action to fix the situation, especially after they’ve been given counsel on how to make things right. The best time to attack a problem is IMMEDIATELY after it happens. Too often people will sit on the situation. Most things don’t get better with time, they get worse. If you started a fire, you wouldn’t wait to see if it will go out on its own, or how big it will get before doing something about it. 

           “Mistakes are a fact of life. It is the response to error that counts.” - Nikki Giovanni

Apologize AGAIN – At this point your apology may seem more sincere. Remember, stay away from attempting to justify why you did what you did and don't recap what you've done in an attempt to make things better. Explaining or trying to provide the reason will look like you are making excuses and take away from your efforts. Keep it simple and sincere. Hopefully, the person or parties will accept it, because they’ve seen your proactive response. "IF" you've done a good job, they will actually acknowledge your efforts. But keep in mind, even after all of your efforts, no one is obligated to accept your apology. Forgiveness is for them and it's not about you.

Amends – We are all human and will make mistakes. So, after you've acknowledged the fact, apologized, asked for advice, taken action to rectify the situation, and apologized again, the final step is to make amends. This part may take some time, but it’s the often overlooked step that can make things whole again. 

I think we can all agree, mistakes will happen. The question now is...what will you do the next time you make one?


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Duane Cummings