Being Etiquette-ful When You’ve Made a Mistake

Made a Mistake

Life is about learning. And if you’ve made a mistake, you are presented with the perfect learning opportunity.

You may learn forgiveness, the correct method for accomplishing what you intended, how to better navigate a particular situation, or all the above. But the bottom line is, unless you learn something from your mistake, you are destined to repeat it.

An Apology is in Order

Whether you regard a social mistake as an embarrassing blunder, lapse of manners, a “slip of etiquette,” or an indiscretion, a response from the person who made it is expected and anticipated. Recovering from a learning mistake includes a speedy “I apologize” when others have been affected.

Because everyone makes mistakes, an apology serves to set an example, a reminder of what feels good for others when a person admits a mistake and expresses the sentiment of regret.

Reminders for making a sincere apology:

  • Be authentic and take responsibility.
  • Apologize in person. If that’s not possible, a phone call is the next best thing.
  • Use “I” statements and be direct.
    “I apologize, Jane, for overlooking the fact that you had already volunteered to take care of this task.”
  • Explain why you are apologizing, but never justify your mistake.
  • Focus on the probable impact on the person affected.
    “I realize that with all of the work you’ve done, my coming in this way probably made you feel unrecognized.”

At the risk of making an insincere apology, it’s best to avoid doing the following things.

  • Never break-down the components of what happened or be defensive as this will overshadow any sincerity in your apology.
    “John, I’m sorry for hurting you, but you have some responsibility in this, too.”
  • Don’t assume that the person is ready to forgive; it might take some time before your apology is accepted.
  • Avoid texting an apology.
  • Don’t apologize in front of others unless the situation warrants doing so. You will appear dramatic and interpreted as insincere.
  • Avoid brushing off your mistake. “Hey, I know it’s probably not a big problem for you and we all make goofs, right?”
  • There is no need to apologize over and over.

Lessons From When You’ve Made a Mistake

The old adage, “Learn from your mistakes,” is good to seriously reflect upon. Learning is not automatic when you’ve made a mistake. There are times when certain situations can cloud the learning opportunity that sits before you.

When you are able to reflect upon what happened, the following questions can be helpful in exposing the lesson or lessons awaiting you.

  • What exactly was the mistake?
  • What did I assume when I said/did what I said/did?
  • What would I like to see myself doing if this situation arose again?
  • What was my lesson?
  • Is there anything else I can do to rectify my error?

Acknowledging an error reminds everyone involved that we are human and not above being at fault. We all do the best we can in any given moment, but there are times when our best still falls short. Apologizing for mistakes is at the heart of good manners and core to our self-command.

Consider using your personal power to positively affect someone’s life by showing regret when you’ve made a mistake. Not only will you lead by example, but you will prove that you are a person of integrity who wants to do better. And that you, like they, are worthy of respect.

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