August 28, 2021

Oops: Recovering Bravely from a mistake at work

The moment Lisa sent the email, something dawned on her. It was something she and her colleagues had missed it in the review process, but which most of the recipients were sure to notice.

Every email in the batch, sent from Bravely to a few hundred employees at a client, opened with the greeting “Hi Lisa!”

You’ve probably been in this situation, or one like it, before. Even the most careful people make mistakes from time to time. The typo your eye glossed over, the scheduling goof that left someone confused or stranded, the deadline that completely slipped your mind — they’re all normal, if not inevitable.

So you’ve messed up. Now, it’s all about how you handle it.

Lisa barely had time to process this when the first reply came: “I think we all just got an email meant for someone named Lisa.”

The response was a humbling reminder of the first tip for recovering from a mistake.

Tip #1: Be forthcoming.

Maybe you’ve told yourself, “No one will notice this,” or “I can cover this up.” It’s an understandable instinct, but we’ve all seen enough classic comedies to know that trying to hide a small error only escalates the situation to a full-blown fiasco.

There are a few reasons to let someone else know as early as possible.

  • Someone will notice. You can run, but you can’t hide. (Not forever, anyway.) Assume your mistake will be spotted eventually, and the rest of the process gets easier.
  • Many hands make lighter clean-up. Depending on the situation, you might need someone else’s skills or support to execute the right fix. You’ll probably be able to return the favor sooner than you think.
  • Transparency earns trust. Admitting your imperfections is part of good leadership. Besides, would you rather be known as a problem-solver with integrity or someone who bends the truth?
  • Shared knowledge is worth more. There’s something to be learned from most slip-ups, and chances are you aren’t the only person who can benefit from learning it. More on that later.

Lisa knew she’d need a hand with quickly writing and sending a follow-up that would address the mistake and not feel like spam. With the second tip in mind, she also knew her teammates appreciate an upbeat approach. 

Tip #2: Go easy on yourself.

Mistakes happen. They’re not personal. When it comes to genuine “once-in-a-blue-moon” accidents, your colleagues care a lot more about finding a resolution than they do about making you feel bad.

Not only is it not necessary to beat yourself over it, but it’s not helpful, either. A quick acknowledgment of the goof (and an apology, when appropriate) is appreciated, but anything more can be a distraction. Allow yourself to feel what you feel, but know that positivity and calm go a long way.

About half an hour after the first email, the same group received a second one, reading as follows:

Subject line: Wait... who's Lisa?
Hi --First Name--,
You may have seen an email from us starting with, "Hi Lisa." Sorry — I know that's not your name. It's mine. Nice to meet you. I'm Lisa!
I'm on the marketing team here at Bravely, and I set up that email today. And yes, I noticed my mistake about three seconds after hitting "Send."
At Bravely, we believe in bringing our whole selves to work, and we know that means not being perfect. So, for the next time you pull a "Hi Lisa," here are my three favorite tips for recovering from a mistake at work:

* Be forthcoming. Hoping no one will notice? That never works. The sooner you bring in stakeholders, the sooner you can take your next steps.

* Go easy on yourself. Making a mistake isn't personal — it happens to all of us from time to time, so approach the aftermath with calm and a positive attitude.

* Learn. You've probably heard the saying, "the only real mistake is one you don't learn from." Cliché, but true. Turn your "oops" into an "aha!"
And, no matter what's going on in your life at work, a Bravely Pro is ready to provide support, encouragement, or even just a sounding board. Start working Bravely and book a session.

Tip #3: Learn.

There’s something to be learned from nearly every mistake or failure. The lessons to look for can come in a few categories, including:

  • Process. How can the processes involved be improved to prevent similar mistakes in the future? (In this case, the marketing team learned they needed to add additional detail to their email review checklist.)
  • Environment. What additional tools and support do you need to work more accurately? Asking this question isn’t about making excuses; it’s about understanding where your needs aren’t necessarily being met.
  • Eureka! What unexpected discovery came out of the experience? (In the “Hi Lisa” story, the marketing team had stumbled upon an effective new variation of their typical tone and voice.)

Several replies commended Lisa on the humor and honesty of the second email. She was also proud of how the follow-up offered valuable information and tied the whole thing to Bravely’s values.

One person, noting all of this, even replied: “If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you did this on purpose.” Talk about a satisfying ending.

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