Realizing you've made a mistake is enough to make your mouth dry and to send your stomach plummeting into your shoes -- which means you can often jump immediately into damage control, without ever taking a moment to figure out where things went wrong (and how to avoid them in the future!).
Nobody wants to commit a major blunder. However, those mistakes can serve as valuable learning experiences -- provided you take the time to evaluate what exactly happened.
Here are five questions to ask yourself after a slipup to ensure that you use that experience to improve yourself moving forward.
1. What happened?
You know you screwed up. But, before you leap into action or try to save face, it's important to first figure out what happened.
Were there mixed wires somewhere? Did you get a direction or instruction confused? Where exactly did things fall apart?
Finding the root of your mistake -- before grasping at straws to patch things up-- will help you better address the future steps.
2. How do I fix it?
Next up, it's time to figure out what reparative action you need to take. It's always better to swallow your pride and take steps to resolve your own error, rather than sweeping it under the rug and hoping nobody notices.
Do you need to loop in your superior or other colleagues? Do you need to press pause on the next part in the process until you get your mistake sorted out? Do you need to issue a correction immediately?
Determine what needs to happen next and get started there.
3. Do I need to apologize?
Here's a piece that's often overlooked. Fixing your mistake is important. But, it doesn't always take the place of a heartfelt and genuine apology.
Errors happen -- you're human after all. But, if your oversight had dire effects or threw a major wrench into someone else's plans, you should have the humility to not only patch things up, but also apologize for your misstep.
Your willingness to own up to your mistakes can go a long way!
4. How will I prevent this in the future?
Now it's time to turn your attention toward the future. How will your prevent this same mistake from occurring all over again?
Perhaps this slipup illustrated a confusing part of a standard process that needs to be reworked or streamlined. Or, maybe it's something as simple as sticking a reminder to your computer monitor.
Figure out what you can do to stop yourself from committing this same blunder in the future. One mistake can be forgiven. But, if you keep making it repeatedly? That's a different story entirely.
5. What's one key takeaway from this experience?
The reflection doesn't stop there. In addition to the preventative measures you'll take moving forward, you should also take some time to identify one key lesson you can extract from that humbling experience.
Maybe you've learned that your colleagues are far more willing to help out than you realize. Or, perhaps you now know that it's better to ask for clarification sooner rather than later.
Figure out the core nugget that you can take away, and you're sure to leverage that mistake -- no matter how mortifying -- as a valuable learning experience.