5 Ways to Recover When It’s Not Your Fault

'I need to hire more people. I can't keep making all of these mistakes.'

So, I was driving to get yet another iPhone 5 fixed today when I received a peculiar phone call from one of my sub-contractors asking about an invitation he received from a team member outside of my company about a client meeting that I have scheduled. My initial reaction goes something like this – “WHAT the hell is going on?! Why is a RANDOM person calling MY subs and inviting them on MY behalf to a client meeting?!” Sweat starts beading on my upper lip and my teeth start clenching. I cut off a fire truck, exit off the highway abruptly (even though it’s my intended exit), and make an animal-like growl in the car as I drive. – Now that that’s out of the way, I can move on to being productive. I call the team member, ask some questions, ask follow up questions, ask different questions, establish clear next actions, and tell him to have a good weekend and I’ll see him next week. I sit back in my car, imagine the worst possible outcome of the situation had I not caught wind of the random invitation, have a minor panic attack, then head into the Apple Store and get some tacos afterwards.

Mistakes happen. Having said that, it’s a different emotional beast when it’s someone else’s mistake that can make you look bad. If you don’t have some quick recovery skills, you could find yourself in a tougher position than necessary. So! In the spirit of competence and class, here are 5 tricks to recovering from someone else’s mistake:

1. Be thankful you didn’t make the mistake. It’s a guilty pleasure, indulge. There’s nothing worse than the pit in your stomach from having a big problem and only yourself to blame.

2. Give yourself time. Sometimes recovery is extremely time sensitive and needs to be resolved immediately. At least define immediately as “No less than one minute from now.” Take that minute and stay still and silent. Say nothing, do nothing, just breathe deeply into your nose and out of your mouth. One minute can seem longer than you might imagine. Calm down.

3. Ask meaningful questions. Meaningful is NOT a synonym for: condescending, angry, insulting, reproachful, or sarcastic. Think about what you need to know and frame your questions concisely. Remember that you could be wrong – think of what a(n) *insert negative connotation here*  you’d look like if you found out there wasn’t actually a mistake based on answers to your questions.

4. Establish clear next actions. No more mistakes. Make sure next actions for recovery are clearly stated and definitely understood. If reasonable, let the “mistaker” do the recovery. This allows 1) The person to fully acknowledge the depth of what happened and 2) To be proactive about recovery. This is especially important if it has happened within your office and between your employees/colleagues. Let the recovery of a mistake become a team building process of lessons learned.

5. Let it go. Fester, fester, fester. Rot, rot, rot. It’s never a good thing. Don’t dwell on what happened, or worse, dwell on what could have happened. Think about it once if you have to (like me) and get it out of your system. Nothing positive happens from dwelling on the past.

The tacos were delicious.

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