Regardless of how conscientious you strive to be, eventually everyone makes mistakes. Fortunately, inadvertent or unintentional mistakes generally are not matters for which professionals are disciplined or held liable in most circumstances, absent some intent, malice or a pattern of errors. Nonetheless, when mistakes do inevitably happen, it’s important to take a few simple steps to handle them correctly and professionally. First, fess up and admit your mistake, preferably without qualification, hedging or excuse. Second, take the initiative to do whatever you can to fix the problem or at least minimize any adverse effects. Don’t wait for somebody to ask you to remedy it. If you’re dealing with reasonable people, taking these simple steps often diffuses the situation and minimizes any potential negative effects to you and others. In contrast, failing to take these commonsense steps, or acting to the contrary and unprofessionally, likely will exacerbate a potentially bad situation.
Because mistakes inevitably occur, we all eventually will be on the receiving end of such situations involving the mistakes of others. It is equally essential to handle those situations professionally, even if it’s not the most expedient option or typically your first instinct. For example, it is almost always a bad idea to respond through electronic communications to perceived misconduct by another person or professional. The many shortcomings of digital exchanges rarely can adequately handle the sensitive nature and the nuances involved in such situations. Rather, e-mails and texts regularly inflame and exacerbate such situations and cause people to make incorrect assumptions and jump to conclusions.
Ideally, confronting such situations should be done in person, or at least by phone. These more traditional options allow for a much more interactive, interpersonal exchange and permit both sides to perceive essential nonverbal communications. In short, when faced with such a situation, ask for a meeting or pick up the phone to discuss it, rather than sending a nasty email message without time to reflect. It is equally important not to make assumptions or jump to conclusions without providing the other side the opportunity to explain and also to give the other side the benefit of the doubt, especially if you have developed a good working professional relationship. Finally, don’t try to take strategic advantage of another’s mistake for short term potential gain. Professionalism typically takes more work, but it is almost always worth it in the long run. Next time the mistake may be yours.
I was reminded recently of these important principles. Fortunately, both sides followed these basic but important steps and acted very professionally. As a result, a potentially bad situation was quickly resolved, which then resulted in corrective action to quickly fix the mistake and the professionals were able to continue their good working relationship and focus on advancing their client’s interests. The situation reminded me of the words of wisdom from a seasoned professional: “Clients don’t hire us to pick a fight but to solve their problems.” I just hope that the next time I am reminded of these important professionalism principles, it is as a result of someone else’s mistake.