The ABC’s Of Handling Mistakes

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By Ken Chapman, Ph.D.
Ken Chapman & Associates, Inc.
A grizzled old sea captain was often spotted by his crew opening a small, locked box on the bridge, peeking inside at its contents, and shutting the lid before anyone might glimpse inside. The crew’s curiosity grew and on the day the captain retired, they rushed to the bridge, cut the lock, and looked inside the box. There they found a sheet of paper that read, “Left—Port / Right—Starboard.
Many of us have those moments when we are scared to death of making a mistake, and some people feel as if no one is ever paying attention to what they are doing until they do make a mistake. If you have goofed in a big way recently, maybe you need to hear about Roy Riegels.
Roy Riegels played in the 1929 Rose Bowl Championship football game between Georgia Tech and the University of California. Shortly before halftime, Roy Riegels made a huge mistake. He got the ball for California and somehow became confused and started running in the wrong direction. After he had run sixty-five yards, one of his teammates outdistanced him and tackled him just before he would have scored for the opposing team. Of course, Georgia Tech gained a distinctive advantage because of his error and they were more than a little pleased.
The men filed off the field and went into the dressing room. All but Riegels sat down on the benches and on the floor. Riegels wrapped his blanket around his shoulders, sat in a corner, his face in his hands, and wept. Coach Nibs Price struggled with what to do with Roy. He finally looked at the team and said simply, “Men, the same team that played the first half will start the second.”
All the players except Roy trotted out to the field. He would not budge. Though the coach looked back and called to him again and again, he remained huddled in the corner. Coach Price finally went over to him and said, “Roy, didn’t you hear me?”
“Coach,” he said, “I can’t do it. I’ve ruined everything. I’ve ruined the school. I’ve ruined myself. I couldn’t face that crowd in the stadium to save my life.”
But Coach Price put his hand on Riegels’s shoulder and said, “Roy, get up and go on back. The game is only half over.”
Roy Riegels went out on the field and played with a zeal that no one had ever seen before. Roy was determined to deserve the goodwill the coach had extended to him after his colossal mistake.
The next time you make a mistake, it might be good to remember the ABC method of handling mistakes.
A. Acknowledge your error and accept responsibility for it. Don’t try to fix the blame on other people or circumstances. When you blame others or circumstances, you never fix the problem.
B. Be gentle with yourself. The game is only half over. This is not the first mistake you have ever made, nor will it be the last. You are still a good and caring person. Besides, some day you may laugh at the blunder, so try to lighten up a bit right now.
C. Correct it and move on. Correcting mistakes may also mean to make amends, if necessary. Those who are wise do not consider it a blessing to make no mistakes. They believe instead, that the great virtue is the ability to correct mistakes and to continually learn from them as one seeks to become better and better.
Remember, a professional is a person who is interested in becoming increasingly good at what they already do well, including learning from their own mistakes.

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For over 30 years Ken Chapman & Associates, Inc. has been making a measurable difference in the corporate cultures of American businesses and in the lives of their employees. KC&A’s value equation is “Committed to People, Profit, and More.”

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