We really screwed this one up.
Take a minute to be upset. Like, really upset. Go punch something (ideally something soft). String together a bunch of swear words like you’re playing Mad Libs.
We don’t usually allow this, but if you really need to, get angry at yourself. Scream at yourself (internally, ideally, but if we’re out on a lake or in an empty office, get it all out: we’re not picky.) No name-calling, please, but otherwise, have at it.
Tears are fine, especially if we’re scared. This stuff is scary. Disappointing people is frightening. Worrying about our reputation, about what people will think and how this will affect our future, is terrifying. We feel like we’re under a microscope – and at the same time, we feel like everyone knows what we did. As if this failure says something deep and fundamental about who we are.
Ok, now: go. Take five minutes. Sit with it. Scream about it. I’ll wait right here. I’m not going anywhere.
Take a few deep breaths.
Now let’s talk; we need to do damage control.
The first few minutes after we realize we screwed up are probably the worst. We flail around and don’t really know what to do. And then things start to settle: it’s time to plan and prioritize. What are the urgent things we need to do, and can do, right now in order to start the process of making things better?
Maybe we need to send a quick email of mortification and abject apology. Maybe we need to pull down error-ridden creative – and start the process of figuring out why the errors happened. Maybe we need to call a meeting to assess what’s happened. Whatever it is, we need to do it. Get the wheels turning towards absolution – or, at least, improvement.
We need to plan for potential consequences.
Most of the time, as we know, mistakes are forgivable: clients know that everyone makes them. We’ve been there, and so have they.
But this mistake? We don’t know. It was a really big one.
So while we’re hoping for the best, and we’re working with our clients for a good outcome, we have to prepare for the worst. We need to figure out what we’ll do if we lose this client. We even need to plan for a situation where the client anti-recommends us to industry colleagues. (We’d like to think we’re lovely and charming enough to work with that no one would say mean things about us. But this was a really big mistake.)
Is it likely that we’ll lose the client? Not really. But we’ve gotta plan for the worst.
We need to learn from this.
You know what sucks so much about making big mistakes with heavy consequences? We’re so upset by them that once the storm has passed, we never want to think about them again. (Except at 3 AM, of course, when our brains won’t let us forget. But that’s another article.) We just want to relegate them to the past, where they can’t hurt us anymore.
But that’s exactly the wrong thing to do.
The only way we can avoid mistakes is to learn from the ones we’ve made. And the only way we can do that is by being gentle enough with ourselves that mistakes change us, but don’t destroy us.
We need to see our big screw-ups as learning experiences – not just nominally, in the Instagram-inspirational-quote way, but simply as opportunities to avoid screwing up again in the same way.
Didn’t think so. Don’t worry: we will. And we’ll be smarter and wiser next time.