How To Recover From Big Mistakes Gracefully

Mistakes come in many forms. Some are humorous like the furniture store that unwittingly offered, “Free: one night stand, when you purchase a bed!” Or the church marquee that read, “Don’t let worries kill you, let the church help.”  But other blunders, often the ones we commit ourselves, are anything but funny.

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Perhaps you can identify with some of these:

  • Missing an appointment with a client
  • Sending someone the wrong product
  • Showing up late for an important meeting
  • Calling someone by the wrong name
  • Sending out an email with typos in it
  • Confidently stating something publicly, only to discover later you were wrong
  • Drawing a complete blank when meeting someone who insists they know you
  • Failing to make a payment on time to an affiliate or contractor
  • Finding out that you’ve offended someone

And sometimes much more serious blunders occur with significant consequences. For instance, in the Clinton—Lewinsky scandal in the 90s, then-President Bill Clinton committed a huge moral blunder in his sexual encounters with Monica Lewinsky. If those weren’t bad enough, what really upset the public was his blatant lies and twisting of the truth under oath. The more he lied, the greater the scandal became. Consequently, he lost all respect, integrity, and trust with the American people, resulting in his impeachment.

Spiritual Foundations

Tony Robbins says that It's not a mistake if you learn from it. What does the Bible say about making mistakes?

“For a righteous man may fall seven times and rise again, but the wicked shall fall by calamity.” Proverbs 24: 16

“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” Philippians 3:12

“I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.  Only let us live up to what we have already attained.” –Philippians 3:14-16

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”- Isaiah 43: 18-19

Feature Presentation “How to Recover From Big Mistakes Gracefully”

While this is an extreme example of a blunder, there’s a lesson there for all of us. Committing a blunder and responding poorly can have catastrophic consequences.

Blunder Causes and Prevention

Blunders occur for many reasons, but here are some of the common problems or oversights that lead to blunders:

  • Cutting corners
  • Rushing
  • Inattention to detail
  • Preoccupation with other things
  • Stress
  • Dishonesty
  • Lack of a moral compass or failure to follow it
  • Failure to put safeguards in place
  • Failure to adhere to established safeguards
  • Having too much on one’s plate
  • Poor oversight or management of others
  • Insufficient training
  • Partnerships with those who don’t share your values
  • Murphy’s Law

As you read through that list of causes, notice that all are avoidable but the last one. But with diligence, honesty, integrity, attention to detail, demonstrating genuine care for others, having good systems and processes in place and following them we can usually avoid most blunders. Obviously, we want to do all we can to avoid mistakes and blunders from occurring in the first place.

But whether we’ve taken the proper precautions or not, what do we do when a blunder occurs?

5 Steps for Recovering from a Blunder Gracefully

  1. Assess the damage. Determine the extent of the damage. How many people does it affect? How serious is the damage? What will be its impact on your business? How will it influence the way people see you? Seek the counsel of others on this matter, so you don’t underestimate the potential damage.
  1. Own up to it. Often, your immediate response to an exposed blunder is to defend yourself, make excuses, or blame someone else. These responses come naturally, especially if the blunder was unintentional. But none of those responses will help you recover. Instead, own the mistake. Take full responsibility for it, even if it was committed by someone else in your organization. Owning up to it demonstrates integrity and honesty. You may even earn a higher level of respect and trust by doing so. Admitting fault also helps you and your constituents move on from there.
  2. Make it right. This may be as simple as offering a sincere apology. But other times, you may need to offer a refund or something for free as an expression of goodwill. If in doubt, ask the person(s), “What can we do to make this right for you?”
  3. Look for the hidden gem. Quite often, if you make a mistake but seek to make amends graciously, you’ll find an unexpected blessing. Your gracious response to a blunder can demonstrate to others the depth of your commitment to them, the soundness of your integrity, or the extent of your care and concern. Look for that hidden jewel and capitalize on it.
  4. Put safeguards in place. If you’re unsure of how the blunder occurred, research it and discover what went wrong. Then, put systems and processes in place to prevent its recurrence.

Mistakes and blunders happen to the best of us. To the extent possible, we want to avoid them. But when they do occur, seek to make them right and do so with all integrity. In this way, you can recover from a blunder gracefully and both you and your tribe will be glad you did.

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Ray Edwards is a world-renowned copywriter and communications strategist, writing for some of the most powerful voices in leadership and business including New York Times bestselling authors Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen (Chicken Soup for the Soul) and Tony Robbins. Ray is a sought-after speaker and author, hosts a popular weekly podcast, and blogs at RayEdwards.com.

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