Everyone makes mistakes. It's how we handle those mistakes that shows who we really are.
The other day when I was commuting into Seattle, the bus driver got off at the wrong freeway exit (first time this has happened to me in decades of bus riding). Upon the collective gasp from his passengers the driver immediately realized his mistake.
“Sorry, folks, this is my first day,” he promptly announced over the speaker.
Two seconds went by. Then he made another announcement:
“Not my first day driving a bus — don’t worry! — it’s my first day on this route.”
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Everyone laughed. When not that many minutes later the driver made a U-turn and got back on track everyone cheered and clapped.
There’s a lot to be learned from the way this bus driver handled his mistake.
First, he immediately recognized his error, apologized and took ownership. He didn’t try to bluff his way through, or pretend that nothing had gone wrong. He stepped up. People respect that. As so many politicians have proven so many times, it’s often not the crime that’s so bad, it’s the cover-up.
Second, he explained why the mistake occurred — not to weasel out of responsibility but to clarify the situation and to put to rest any concerns people may have had. Understanding why something went wrong is also important because it helps us prevent similar mistakes from happening in the future. It’s key.
Third, he took immediate steps to rectify matters. You’d think this would go without saying — when we make a mistake, we try to fix it, right? — but you’d be surprised at how often people are so busy trying to deny that a mistake happened (or hoping that no one will notice the mistake) that they never get around to actually addressing the problems it caused.
We’re all going to screw up from time to time. That’s a given. What’s important is how we handle ourselves afterward. Do it right, and people will leap to help and support you.
That day, every single person paused to give this driver a kind word as they got off the bus. What could have been an annoyance or something to be mad about turned into a real moment of true community. We were behind that bus driver, literally and figuratively!
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use. Email her at email@example.com.