Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
I’m a tea drinker. I don’t hate coffee. I just like tea better. As such, I am constantly buying new teas to try. One of my recent purchases was Soderblandning, a blended tea from Stockholm, Sweden. The tea has an interesting story. It was created in 1979 by Swedish tea shop owner Vernon Mauris. He was preparing a tea blend when an extra ingredient accidently fell into the mixture. Not wanting to throw the tea away, Mauris decided to try to sell it and called it “mistake tea”. Later it was renamed Soderblandning after a local festival.
Mauris’ “mistake” has ultimately become one of the tea shop’s most popular teas. And I read somewhere that it’s served at the Nobel Prize award banquet hosted by the Swedish Royal Family.
It made me wonder – as I was staring at this little tea tin – how do we react to our mistakes? And are there ways for us to consider turning our mistakes into something better?
Understand what mistake means. The definition of mistake means “to understand wrongly, misinterpret, or estimate incorrectly”. Using this definition, an example of a mistake could be “I made a mistake and put extra bacon on the sandwich.” Or “I estimated that 75% of employees would respond to the survey. The reality is 87% completed the survey.” It’s important for us to remember that all mistakes are not bad.
Get comfortable with making mistakes. None of us are perfect. We’re going to make mistakes. When we’re learning something new, we’re going to make a lot of mistakes. When you’re working on something, think about the different mistakes that could happen. If they don’t, then great! But if they do, then you had already considered this could happen and possibly even thought of some effective ways to respond.
Hold yourself accountable. If you make a mistake, admit it. First, admit it to yourself. Then forgive yourself so you can focus on next steps. If we use the sandwich example above, if you accidently put too much bacon on someone’s sandwich, you might say “Okay, I won’t do that again next time.” Or “Darn, now I have less bacon for my sandwich.” Or maybe “Let me make some more bacon so I have plenty for all the sandwiches.” Admit the mistake, then move forward.
Be prepared to discuss it with others. After you hold yourself accountable, it’s time to manage the mistake with others. If we use the survey example above, we might have to inform others of the increased participation and suggest some additional actions. Like “I didn’t anticipate survey participation to be this strong. I think we need to keep the window for accepting feedback open a couple extra days.” Not acknowledging the mistake could possibly cut the survey off early and frustrate employees.
Do a debrief. Regular readers of HR Bartender know I’m a fan of the two-question debrief. This is a perfect time to ask yourself: 1) What did I do well? And 2) What would I do differently next time? Even when a mistake happened, think about what things did go well because you want to continue doing them AND THEN figure out what you’d like to do differently next time.
Please notice I haven’t spent any time talking about things that are bad or wrong. Yes, sometimes mistakes happen that are bad and wrong. We can apply the same principles. Realize a mistake was made. Admit it. Come up with solutions to mitigate it. Debrief so it doesn’t happen again.
Often what makes mistakes bad or worse is when we refuse to admit they happened. For that reason, we don’t want to talk about them or come up with any solutions to change the situation. Because that would mean we have to say we made a mistake. Maybe instead of trying to hide our mistakes, we need to openly share them … who knows, they could turn into our next marvelous thing.
Image captured by Sharlyn Lauby while exploring the streets of Orlando, FL47