Handling Mistakes

At some point in time it happens to everyone, you make a mistake. Sometimes they are big, sometimes small and sometimes they are perceived by others to bigger or smaller than they are. How you handle your mistakes can make a big difference in your relationship with a client. There are no hard and fast rules for handling these things. You have to apply some judgment based on the people you are working with. Are they fixated on blaming someone or on fixing the the problem? If their focus is blame, then you are dealing with a dysfunctional, paranoid culture, the type of environment where CYA (Covering Your Ass) is the most important activity you can participate in. If their focus is on fixing the problem then you’re in luck, assuming you are willing to work quickly to correct your mistake and move forward.

Web sites change quickly and are made by people. This leads to bugs and typos and other problems slipping through. Sometimes the pace of development and changing technologies means that you miss an update to a standard or the new best practice. Well, the bad news is you screwed up. The good news is that you don’t need to ship anything to fix it, you just have to update the site and FTP the changes to the server. Sometimes the error was a simple oversight and sometimes you didn’t know something you should have; either way you fix it, learn from it, and move on.

Handling the Blamers

Some people aren’t happy unless they have someone to blame. If they can’t move on without a scapegoat then own up to the mistake, point out your fast response once the mistake was pointed out, and assure them that you will do everything you can to prevent it from recurring. It takes a lot of the wind out of their sails when you cut off their finger pointing with a blunt assessment of your mistake. Just don’t dwell on the screw up, focus on the fix and your plan to move forward. If they continue to focus on blaming you for the mistake instead of the positive changes you just made they come out looking bad to everyone else.

Kevin Hall
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