Outline of a bird soaring above blue clouds with 'I made a mistake' written above and differentheight.com written below

What to do when you’ve made a mistake

I made mistake.

Maybe that’s not the best way to start but I’d rather be honest with you. If this is to be a long-term relationship (if you’ll have me? *big eyes like Puss from Shrek*) then I stand on the shoulders of giants in knowing that is the stronger foundation for us. Back to the main narrativeā€¦

I made a mistake.

I used language with a client that they could not understand.

Words are my life. Words are my business and how I make the money I need to feed my family. How could I have made such a, frankly, silly error?

The power of words is hard to overstate

“C’mon, it’s just a joke!”. “Where’s your sense of humour?”. “You’re just a (insert term here, e.g. woman/Paddy/Jock/Taffy, etc)”. It might be a throwaway comment to the giver but for the receiver, it is likely to have been one of many on any given day. Micro-aggressions create prejudice that lead to discrimination against swathes of people, grouped together by a single, arbitrary characteristic.

Jargon is like that. It’s insipid. It creeps in. It creates an “us and them” situation. The Knower in their exalted ivory tower, the Unknowing far below. Grasping for meaning like peasants scrabbling in the dirt for pennies thrown by a Regency dandy.

The Plain English Campaign has done much to highlight the need for removing jargon and legalese. They help corporations and government consider the importance of words. When I worked with people with learning disabilities, I saw first-hand the discrimination that the wrong words can create. The Judith Trust, London, and I worked together, transforming a research project about people with learning disabilities into a research project for people with learning disabilities. The very people about whom the research was done were now able to access it. This access to education furthers people’s understanding of themselves, of society, and of their place in it. Isn’t that something we all want? Isn’t that something everyone should have?

I made a mistake.

Despite my years of experience, practical and theoretical, and my daily familiarity with communicating with people without sharing the same mother tongue, I still made this mistake. Using words correctly for your audience is a regularly enjoyable mental challenge if you remain alert. On this occasion, I did not do that. It just goes to show: we can all make mistakes. It’s how you deal with them that matters.

1. Feel the emotion.

Don’t quash the feelings you might get when you realise you’ve made a mistake. Don’t dwell with them either though. Notice the feeling. Recognise the feeling. Perhaps greet it with your internal monologue. Then, allow it to wash away, like a wave that kisses each grain of sand before moving on.

2. Learn from it.

This is the best way to prevent repeating the same mistake. Mental notes are great but writing things down is even more productive. There is a long-held myth that handwriting is the only way to take notes. The British Psychological Society recently highlighted a study that suggests taking digital notes is just as effective. Pick up a pen, type on your laptop, share a post on your blog, just make a note.

3. Ask the affected party.

Often mistakes are mistakes because they negatively impact someone else. Sometimes, you want to make it up to them. You explain yourself. You offer information. You demonstrate your remorse with gifts. Does it work? Rarely. In fact, you can fan the flames of offence this way. Instead, ask the affected person if there is a way that you could make it up to them. Listen to the answer. Respond accordingly, even if it’s not something you want to hear. Either way, apologise first.

4. Talk to your support network.

This can become a pity party where your nearest and dearest spend a lot of time reassuring you that you’re awesome (because let’s face it, you really are) and vilifying the other person/situation/another factor. That’s not the purpose of this step. Instead, it is an opportunity for you to identify further areas for improvement. This might mean setting up a meeting with your boss, for example. Discuss your error with them in an honest, factual manner. This then leads onto point five in this list.

5. Identify solutions.

Depending on what the response was from point three, there may not be a solution, per se. Depending on what your boss said in point four, you may have to resolve the situation with something you find quite hard to do. This is a normal part of the growth-change cycle. Keep pushing yourself through, with support, and you’ll discover you can do it. There won’t be a next time, thanks to learning from it as you did in point two, but you may discover transferable skills for exciting, new mistakes you’re yet to make.

6. Be kind to yourself.

It doesn’t matter if you’re used to using words, you sometimes use the wrong one. It doesn’t matter if you’re Richard Branson, sometimes the cola just doesn’t work out. It’s too easy to beat yourself up. I do it most nights, at about 2.30am, so I’m certainly not practicing what I preach here. However, I do also practice kindness to myself. Walking in nature; good decaf coffee; reading; staying in bed all darned day; these are things that make me feel good. Do what makes you feel good. Scented candles and warm baths are often cited as healthy, positive self-care actions too.

There you have it. My confession to you. I made a mistake. I’ve written it down to ensure I can learn from it. I’ve apologised to the client and cleared up any confusion by speaking to them, followed up with an email. I spoke to my boss (me!) and we’ve agreed that it’s not the end of the world but still important to remember to move forward in a positive way. I’ve identified the solution, which is to be mindful in my work, even when I’m busy. And I’m staying in bed all darned day.