No one is immune to making mistakes. But if we simply apologize and carry on as before, we’re in danger of repeating the same errors. When we don’t learn from our mistakes, we inflict unnecessary stress on ourselves and on others, and we risk losing people’s confidence and trust in us. Here are five steps to help you to learn from your mistakes:
1. Own Your Mistakes
You can’t learn anything from a mistake until you admit that you’ve made it. So, take a deep breath and admit to yours, and then take ownership of it. Inform those who need to know, apologize, and tell them that you’re working on a solution. Saying “sorry” takes courage, but it’s far better to come clean than to hide your error or, worse, to blame others for it. In the long run, people will remember your courage and integrity long after they’ve forgotten the original mistake.
2. Reframe the Error
How you view your mistakes determines the way that you react to them, and what you do next. Chances are, you’ll view your error in a purely negative light for as long as any initial shock and discomfort about it persists. But, if you can reframe your mistake as an opportunity to learn, you will motivate yourself to become more knowledgeable and resilient. When you’ve acknowledged your mistake, think about what you could do to prevent it from happening again. For example, if you didn’t follow a process properly, consider introducing a more robust checklist or a clearer process document. Stop beating yourself up, pause for a moment to reflect, and start thinking about how you can gain from the situation.
3. Analyse Your Mistake
Next, you need to analyse your mistake honestly and objectively. Ask yourself the following questions:
- What was I trying to do?
- What went wrong?
- When did it go wrong?
- Why did it go wrong?
Conducting this “post-mortem” should reveal what led to the mistake and highlight what needs to change in order to avoid a repeat.
4. Put Lessons Learned into Practice
The danger at this stage is that work pressures force you back to your routine tasks and habitual behaviours. The lessons that you identified in Step 3 could languish, unfulfilled, as mere good intentions. In other words, learning lessons is one thing, but putting them into practice is quite another. Chances are, acting on what you’ve learned will require the discipline and motivation to change your habits, or to change the way that your team works. Doing so will help you to avoid self-sabotage in the future and will allow you to reap the rewards and benefits of implementing better work practices. Here, you need to identify the skills, knowledge, resources, or tools that will keep you from repeating the error. Do so with care, though, because “quick fixes” will likely lead to further mistakes. Any actions that you take to implement your learning need to be enduring, and something that you can commit to.
5: Review Your Progress
You may have to try out several ways to put your learning into practice before you find one that successfully prevents you from repeating past errors. From there, monitor the efficacy of your chosen tactic by reviewing the number and nature of mistakes that do – or don’t! – still get made.
To err is human, and we don’t have to punish ourselves for the mistakes that we make. They can be great opportunities to learn, and to develop on a personal, as well as an organizational, level. We just need to learn from them, and to put that learning into practice.
When you, or one of your team members, make a mistake:
Own up to it. Don’t play the “blame game.” This is detrimental in the long run, and you’ll lose the potential for learning.
Reframe your mistake as an opportunity to learn and develop.
Review what went wrong, to understand and learn from your mistake.
Identify the skills, knowledge, resources, or tools that will keep you from repeating the error.
Review your progress.