How To Deal When You Get It Wrong

It’s such a horrible feeling. Your stomach starts to turn, your breathing becomes labored.  Perhaps you begin to sweat, feel the need to sit down, or throw up.  Your mind races.  “How could this have happened?”  “How could I have been so stupid?”  “Why didn’t I catch this earlier when I could have fixed it?”  Nearly everyone in compliance has been there, and if you haven’t, you probably will be soon.  Sometimes, despite our very best efforts, we get it wrong.
Perhaps you only read the first email in the chain and gave an approval, when, if you’d had time and energy, you’d have read the whole thing and realized the request was against policy.  Perhaps it was late at night and your child was asking a question at the same time you were trying to listen to a conference call taking place half-way around the world when you gave bad advice.  Perhaps you agreed too easily with the pushy head of sales without investigating alternatives.  It doesn’t matter why, it’s a problem, and it is your fault.
Particularly in compliance, we have an idea that we need to be perfect.  When your job is to create and enforce the rules, it feels awful when we fail to abide by them ourselves.  And yet, as we are all imperfect, we will all sometimes fall short.  When we do, how can we deal with it most effectively?

Put It In Context
Sure, at that moment it may feel like the end of your career, but the likelihood is that as the famous saying goes, “this too shall pass.”  Even enormous mistakes are wiped away over time.  Think about how the issue will feel in five minutes, five days, and five years.  You’ll have many opportunities to get it right in the next five years.  Whatever happened will probably be OK.
Accept That You Made The Mistake
Few things infuriate people more quickly than watching someone deny responsibility when they have clearly made a mistake.  You may be seen to be lying, instead of trying to simply save face.  Do yourself a favor- accept that you made a mistake; publicly if required.  Apologize sincerely, and drop it. 
Try Not To Be Defensive
Along with accepting that you made a mistake, you should try not to be defensive.  If you are contrite and willing to learn from the mistake, you are much more likely to win the affection and forgiveness of those around you.
Learn From It
My father rarely swore, but when something was truly hard, he occasionally said, in a tongue-in-cheek-way, “Oh good, another f-ing learning opportunity.”  We may very well feel this way about our mistakes, but they do in fact, lead us to wisdom, experience, and the opportunity to get it right next time.  Maya Angelou famously said, “When you know better, you do better.”  I couldn’t have said it better myself.  

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Kristy Grant-Hart

Kristy Grant-Hart

Kristy Grant-Hart is the founder and CEO of Spark Compliance.
She's a renowned expert at transforming compliance departments into in-demand business assets.