Little girl with eyes very wide and hand over her mouth

Oops — did I do that?

If you’ve ever watched the sitcom Family Matters, you no doubt recall the nerdy neighbor, Steve Urkel, whose trademark phrase was “Did I do that?” Always uttered right after something had fallen apart or come crashing down. Because he just had that effect on things. It seemed life was one major blunder for him.

Many blunders and oops moments are funny (at least afterward). Others not so much.

If you’ve been alive for a while, you can probably identify with some of these:

  • Missing an appointment with a client
  • Sending someone the wrong product
  • Showing up late for an important meeting
  • Calling someone by the wrong name
  • Sending out an email with typos in it
  • Confidently stating something publicly, only to discover later you were wrong
  • Drawing a complete blank when meeting someone who insists they know you
  • Failing to make a payment on time to an affiliate or contractor
  • Finding out that you’ve offended someone

Sometimes much more serious blunders occur with significant consequences. For instance, in the Clinton—Lewinsky scandal in the ’90s, then President Bill Clinton committed a huge moral blunder in his sexual encounters with Monica Lewinsky. If those weren’t bad enough, what really upset the public were his blatant lies and twisting of the truth under oath. The more he lied, the greater the scandal became. Consequently, he lost respect, integrity, and trust with the American people, leading to investigation and impeachment proceedings.

While this is an extreme example of a blunder, there’s a lesson there for all of us. Committing a blunder and responding poorly can have catastrophic consequences.

Blunder causes and prevention

Blunders occur for many reasons, but here are some of the common problems or oversights that lead to blunders:

  • Cutting corners
  • Rushing
  • Inattention to detail
  • Preoccupation with other things
  • Stress
  • Dishonesty
  • Lack of a moral compass or failure to follow it
  • Failure to put safeguards in place
  • Failure to adhere to established safeguards
  • Having too much on one’s plate
  • Poor oversight or management of others
  • Insufficient training
  • Partnerships with those who don’t share your values
  • Murphy’s Law

As you read through that list of causes, notice that all are avoidable but the last one. 

With diligence, honesty, integrity, attention to detail, demonstrating genuine care for others, having good systems and processes in place and following them we can usually avoid most blunders. Obviously, we want to do all we can to avoid mistakes and blunders from occurring in the first place. 

But whether we’ve taken the proper precautions or not, what do we do when a blunder occurs?

5 steps for recovering from a blunder gracefully

  1. Assess the damage. Determine the extent of the damage. How many people does it affect? How serious is the damage? What will be its impact on your business? How will it influence the way people see you? Seek the counsel of others on this matter, so you don’t underestimate the potential damage.
  1. Own up to it. Often, your immediate response to an exposed blunder is to defend yourself, make excuses, or blame someone else. These responses come naturally, especially if the blunder was unintentional. But none of those responses will help you recover. Instead, own the mistake. Take full responsibility for it, even if it was committed by someone else in your organization. Owning up to it demonstrates integrity and honesty. You may even earn a higher level of respect and trust by doing so. Admitting fault also helps you and your constituents move on from there.
  2. Make it right. This may be as simple as offering a sincere apology. But other times, you may need to offer a refund, or something for free as an expression of goodwill. If in doubt, ask the person(s), “What can we do to make this right for you?”
  3. Look for the hidden gem. Quite often, if you make a mistake but seek to make amends graciously, you’ll find an unexpected blessing. Your gracious response to a blunder can demonstrate to others the depth of your commitment to them, the soundness of your integrity, or the extent of your care and concern. Look for that hidden jewel and capitalize on it.
  4. Put safeguards in place. If you’re unsure of how the blunder occurred, research it and discover what went wrong. Then, put systems and processes in place to prevent its recurrence. 

Mistakes and blunders happen to the best of us. To the extent possible, we want to avoid them. But when they do occur, seek to make them right and do so with all integrity. In this way you can recover from a blunder gracefully and both you and your tribe will be glad you did.

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