How To Recover From A Mistake

Posted by AmandaKeeney on May 28, 2013

This familiar scene has played out across workplaces everywhere.

As consumers, we’ve either actively engaged with a brand or been a casual observer to innocent blunders, missteps or gaffes. And, around the virtual workplace water cooler, we’ve shared our commentary about how in the world it occurred and mused about the seeming slip from grace. Or, if you’re like me and from the South, you’ve uttered the obligatory, “bless their heart.”

How to recover from a mistake 20130528

But mistakes happen. And, as communication counselors, it’s important that we help our clients recover by shaping appropriate, transparent, relevant and heartfelt responses.

Increasingly, it’s not the fall that defines a person, a team or an organization, but rather how they recover from it.

Recently, engaging with two different and distinct brands as a consumer, I observed gaffes in customer e-marketing. And the recovery, it’s important to note, varied. These blunders didn’t result in widespread news coverage, but they did connect with important constituents and, in one instance, missed an opportunity to share a message about who they are and reinforce their claims of being customer focused.

Imagine: You receive an email proclaiming significant deals and lowered costs. The branded, routine email blast entices you to take a break from your workday grind and, for a moment, calculate potential savings from their offer. You’re enticed to click but are called away to another business meeting. A few hours later, still anticipating the great deal, you return to your office to discover another email from the same company has arrived in your inbox. Turns out someone may have hit send too soon. Seems the deal wasn’t really in play and the company has taken it back. Whoops. Never mind. Forget you saw it. The offer won’t be honored. Your hopes and dreams for saving a little money were quickly dashed and without the finesse to make you understand the company’s business decision. Bad form.

On the same day, you receive another email blast from another company. This email arrives and you recognize it as a routine newsletter to update you on their current projects, best practices and ideas. While scanning, you notice a webinar that happened last month but thought perhaps they were simply promoting an opportunity for busy professionals to watch an on-demand version.

A few hours later, however, they share a correction that acknowledges the mistake, employs self-deprecating humor and reminds us that they, too, are human.

Subject line: We are people not robots; and the real January Newsletter

Lead story:

Hi Everyone,

In our earlier email this morning, we made an error and sent you our December Newsletter, rather than our January Newsletter.

Our sincere apologies!

Mistakes make us human, even in translation. For some comic relief, check out the top translation errors in 2012. Below is our real January Newsletter with industry coverage, blog posts and product updates.

Have a great day.

Should you find yourself in a position to offer mea culpa, consider these recovery tactics:

  • Say you’re sorry - Own your mistake, quickly, and mean it. Whether you’re a leader or you represent an organization or team, the recovery of a misstep can define you. Showing sincere regret and apologizing for a mistake matters.
  • Say it in everyday language - People will respond to an apology that is spoken in the words they normally use. Shrouding your “I’m sorry” in corporate speak will only serve to turn off your audience and dilute your sincerity.
  • Learn from your mistake - Many people routinely share that their personal teachable moments have come from mistakes or failures. Bring together your team, after the dust has settled, to explore ways, when appropriate, to implement a process that eliminates future mistakes. In manufacturing, many operators conduct a root cause failure analysis to identify where their system failed and create a change to avoid a future glitch. Involve your communication and change management specialists to explore which communication processes could be employed to create a system of reviews to minimize risk of a repeat incident.
  • Laugh at yourself - The mistake, when recovered from gracefully, will not ruin you. Shake it off. Leaders who can laugh at themselves and share lessons learned from mistakes are those who create an environment of trust within their teams. Granted, it might take a while to find any humor in the situation, but, with some time and earned perspective, you’ll likely recognize an important lesson and, hopefully, find a small bit of comfort in the fact that you aren’t a robot.

Do you have any stories or suggestions about correcting mistakes? Tell us in the comments below, or tweet your responses using the hashtag #mcgblog.