No one wants to make an error. Whether a mistake costs you an opportunity, a client, or something else, it isn’t a pleasant experience.
One of the reasons we hate making mistakes is the fact that other people are keeping score. The bigger the mistake, the longer—and more vividly—it will be remembered. And the longer you’ll be reminded of it. Errors come with pain.
But as bad as errors feel, they serve a useful purpose: they inoculate you against future errors.
The pain of making the mistake leaves an indelible mark. The embarrassment of making a public mistake can be even more painful. You don’t need anyone to remind you of the mistake; your inner critic normally takes care of that for you. That pain is one of the reasons that when you make a mistake, you inoculate yourself against future harm.
Here is how you can make sure you inoculate yourself from future errors and learn from your mistakes.
What did you believe?: It isn’t enough to recognize an error. You need to why you made the mistake. What did you believe when you took the action that resulted in the error? What did you think would happen?
When I was really young, I made the mistake of reading (in excessively great detail) my presentation to my prospective clients. I believed they were interested in knowing everything about my company. They weren’t interested in knowing every detail, every feature, and every benefit.
Why was this an error?: What happened? Why did the action you take result in an error?
By reading the presentation to clients, I bored them to tears (and in one extreme case, I believe I caused an actual coma). By substituting marketing material for real business acumen (something I didn’t have) and situational knowledge (something I did have) I caused the prospective client to disengage.
What would you change?: If you could call for a do-over, what would you change? If you encounter a similar situation in the future, what will you do different next time? What facts will provide you with proof that what you did before will fail this time?
I stopped reading the presentation to my prospective clients. I learned to listen and pick out the two or three things I needed to provide proof on and point only to those few pages for reinforcement.
Experience is a wonderful (if sometimes brutal) teacher. One of the reasons that errors are so powerful at inoculating you against future mistakes is that they come with emotional pain. To inoculate yourself from errors, you have to learn from them and choose differently in the future.
What errors have you made lately? Were they public or private?
Did the error you made come with emotional pain or embarrassment?
What did you believe that caused you to make the mistake?
How will you identify situations in the future so that you don’t make the same again?