Monthly Archives: July 2010

What to Do When You Step in the Proverbial Dog Poo

Expecting influence to produce infallibility is hoping for the impossible.

While the depth of our humanity has a great deal to do with the strength of our influence it is also the leading cause of most of our blunders. On our way to contribute to the greater good, we often trip over our own intentions. No matter how hard we try to get everything just right, the law of averages tells us that sooner or later something is bound to go wrong. Unfortunately, stomping into a flaming bag of proverbial dog poo tends to trigger an automatic self-flagellation response that is hugely counter-productive. Despite the fact that beating ourselves up for our mistakes feels like the correct response, it is really self-forgiveness that puts us on the road to redemption.

Here is a five part strategy for constructively coping with personal mistakes.

Forgive But Don’t Forget.

The moment a chosen course of action takes a turn for the worst the body senses trouble long before reality hits the conscious mind. The stomach takes a plummeting dive for cover. As all the blood rushes to the cheeks, the face gives off heat that makes the scalp sweat. By the time the palms start getting good and clammy, the mind is aware of what’s happening and becomes consumed with panic, shame, and guilt. In this state, all of the body’s resources are directed toward instinctual reaction leaving very little energy for processing and reason. Though natural, this response actually prevents us from remedying the situation.

Next time you realize you’ve made a mistake, start the coping process by taking a deep breath. Then, forgive yourself.  Keep in mind that while it’s smart not to paddle around in a pool of guilt, you are not off the hook. Forgive yourself for making the mistake while holding yourself accountable for the consequences.

Don’t fight. Be Contrite.

The late great John Wooden wrote about what his father called “Two Sets of Threes.” They are simple rules of conduct. The first set is “Never lie. Never Cheat. Never steal.” The second set provides the perfect explanation for how to cope with adversity. They are, “Don’t whine. Don’t complain. Don’t make excuses.” Coach Wooden described the “Two Sets of Threes” as his compass for doing the right thing. Let them be your guide when you find yourself on the stinky end of a bad choice.

Try this. The next time something goes wrong, (believe me there will be a next time), forego the detailed explanations, finger pointing (intentional or inadvertent), and rationalizing. Instead, say these words: “I am sorry.” Notice, this sentence tells the story without the need for a preface or an epilogue. Let it be a sincere statement of contrition unmarred by the stains of weaker less healing words.

Options & Ears Open.

After you’ve forgiven yourself and shared a simple statement of regret with the offended party, it’s time to put an action plan in motion. Bring well thought out options to the table. Incidentally, if you do manage to figure how to turn back time and eradicate mistakes from the collective consciousness, please do share! We’ll even let you blog about it here!

A willingness to share and implement plans for mitigating the damage and addressing the consequences of your error brings your apology to life. Backing up your words with meaningful results-driven deeds goes a long way to earning back the trust of those affected by your mistake.

Active listening leads to reparation. Prepare options but keep an open mind to alternative solutions. Give the others involved in the situation a forum to share their feelings and discuss ideas. Your suggestions for fixing things are intended as a peace offering; not the be-all end-all to the situation. It’s easy to get caught in the mental trap of thinking that the only way to regain people’s trust is to be the one to solve the problem. Hard work and joining in a team effort to clean up the mess earn more trust than a heroic single-handed attempt to save the day.

Unforgiven.

Accept the fact that at the end of the day, you may be the only person who forgives you. Humble remorse, willing accountability, and an earnest attempt to collaborate on a remedy give you a fighting chance at securing forgiveness and rebuilding trust. They are not guarantees. Those affected by your erroneous actions may still choose not to forgive you or they may forgive but refuse to forget. Respect their choice.

Live and Learn.

Regardless of whether you receive absolution from others, make sure you’ve gleaned whatever lessons are available from the experience. The best way to prevent history from repeating itself is to capture the lessons in a place you can reference frequently. Develop a personal plan for applying them in other areas of your work and life.

An influential leader gets back on the horse a wiser rider than when she fell.

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