Making Mistakes and Handling CriticismBy Terry Arndt
Three weeks into his new job, Eric made a mistake. Not a "show up for a meeting a minute late" mistake, or a "forgot to cc Anne in accounting" mistake, but a "THIS IS GOING TO COST THE COMPANY MONEY" kind of mistake. Eric submitted a proposal as requested and on deadline. All the i's were dotted and t's crossed. The decimals were in the right places. But he submitted it online late Friday afternoon and didn't realize the posting wasn't secure until he had clicked on the "Send" button. The problem? For an entire weekend his company's proposal was in full view for any of the company's competitors: they could see the scope of the job, the cost quotes, everything that a competitor shouldn't see. It was a long weekend for Eric.
There are mistakes and then there are MISTAKES!! Over the course of your career, you will make many of the former and at least a few of the latter. One thing to learn early on is that it's important to do everything you can to prevent errors on the job…and it's just as important to learn how to deal with a mistake once you've made one.
While nobody wants to make mistakes, successful people learn from their missteps. If handled badly, mistakes can have a negative impact on your career. If handled well, you can learn from your mistakes, gain valuable experience and really prove yourself as someone who can overcome adversity. Here's how:
- Be Accountable – Own up to your mistakes immediately. Don't hope that no one will notice or that it will somehow go away if you ignore it. The longer you wait to accept responsibility, the worse the situation is likely to get.
- Apologize, but Don't Make Excuses – A sincere apology is necessary, but a litany of why the mistake was made or why it wasn't your fault is not.
- Learn from the Mistake – Evaluate what you did wrong, how you handled the situation, and what you can do different next time to avoid the same error.
- Avoid Careless Mistakes – You are going to make mistakes no matter how hard you try not to, but that doesn't mean you should just throw your hands up and be careless. Most mistakes are avoidable, so take control when possible.
- Don't Beat Yourself Up – You've made a mistake, you've dealt with it the best you can – now forgive yourself and move on. There's nothing to be gained by dwelling on your mistake or becoming angry.
Of course, making mistakes and receiving criticism often go hand-in-hand. Receiving criticism is part of any career. Pleasant? Not usually. Helpful? Usually, if you learn to look at it in that light. Whether the criticism is negative or positive, coming from a supervisor or from co-workers, it can help you understand your shortcomings and encourage you to improve. When you receive criticism, do the following:
- Listen – As you are receiving criticism, don't interrupt. Let the person finish to make sure you are getting all of the information.
- Stay Calm – Getting angry or defensive will only irritate the other person and make you appear uncooperative and unwilling to take criticism.
- Make Sure You Understand – Confirm what you have heard to make sure you got all of the points.
- Seek Privacy – Being criticized in public is not acceptable. If you find yourself in this situation, calmly ask the person if you can continue the situation somewhere private. If the person refuses, you may have to consider cutting the conversation short and continuing later in private.
- Remain Open-minded -- It's natural for many of us to reject criticism. However, when we are open-minded we can use constructive criticism to help us grow and reach excellence.
- Find the Lesson -- There's something to learn from every situation. If you are criticized harshly or for something you didn't do, take something from the moment that will help you. The worst supervisors can make the best teachers because they provide an example of what not to do (and sometimes galvanize us to make a career change).