We all make mistakes.
Hopefully, today’s mistake happened because we aimed high and fell short: we thought we could deliver something amazing and it was only OK. We thought something was an appropriate risk to take but the dice turned up snake eyes. We thought we could keep all the plates spinning but we let one of them drop.
Regardless of why it happened, here we are.
The question now is: who is going to own that message? And how quickly?
It is incredibly tempting to choose to duck and cover in this moment.
Maybe our client, or our boss, won’t fully notice.
Maybe, even though we know that they will notice, we don’t feel ready to stand in the cold, harsh light of (our own and their) disappointment.
Worse, maybe we find ourselves minimizing and deflecting because our ego can’t stand the idea that we truly messed this one up.
This approach—which can feel safer—exposes us to a much greater risk.
Because the underpinning of all our relationships is trust. This trust can only exist if you and I are confident that we have the same understanding of what “good” and “great” look like.
When we hide from our mistake, when we miss the opportunity to say, first and loudly, “This wasn’t good enough,” we’re eroding that shared sense of confidence.
We’re opening the door to our customer asking themselves, “Do they [service provider] share my [purchaser] understanding of what we are trying to achieve here? Do we agree what “great” looks like?”
Once that question is asked, the conversation stops being about what went wrong and how to make sure that never happens again. In parallel, beneath the surface, unspoken questions fester: about values and judgment and standards, and whether they are shared between the two parties.
Because this conversation is hidden away, we won’t hear these questions until it is too late.
This is why we must own our mistakes clearly and forcefully—to ensure that this one-time mistake doesn’t metastasize into something much more harmful.
“This was our mistake.”
“This wasn’t us at our best.”
“I understand the negative impact this has had on you. Our job is to keep our promise to you, and we didn’t do it this time. We are committed to doing better next time.”
“This should never have happened, and it won’t happen again.”