Turning a Mistake into a Positive

Ever have one of those days?

I was about to deliver a presentation on Savvy Networking and everything seemed to be going wrong. My mic wasn’t working properly, the room was stifling hot (or maybe I was having a hot flash) and the person who was to introduce me, had lost my speaker biography.bad first impression rude phone

Flustered, moi?

Suffice it to say I was a bit flustered. Minutes before I was scheduled to speak a gentleman came up to me and asked me a question that I planned to address in my talk. So I asked him to be patient as I would be covering it in my presentation.

Well, later that day when I was checking email, one popped up from the person who had asked me the question. He said he was offended because I was rude to him and even though he thought my presentation was solid, he would never recommend me because of the way I treated him.

Rude, moi?

I was stunned and surprised to read this. Then my face began to flush and looking back at the situation I could see how he could interpret my actions as being abrupt and less than friendly.

Immediately I wanted to defend myself. I thought about emailing him back to apologize for my actions and explain my behaviour. But in these awkward types of situations, email is such an imperfect way to communicate.

Humble pie

So I steeled myself and picked up the phone to apologize.  He answered right away and was surprised to hear from me. I told him I was sorry for my behaviour and that it wasn’t my intent to brush him off.

I didn’t make any excuses for being self-absorbed and insensitive. After apologizing I explained what was going on at the time, not as an excuse for my behaviour but to assure him my actions weren’t personal. He accepted my apology and we even went on to have a great conversation.

Learn from mistakes

I strive to follow my own advice, so here are
6 tips to recover from a bad impression:

1. Acting to correct things immediately, impacts trust. We all make mistakes; even “business etiquette experts” aren’t perfect. We overcome a negative first impression and earn respect by owning up to our mistakes and offering a sincere apology.

2. Try to make the apology in person or by phone. Texting or email apologies don’t have the same impact and opportunity for repairing and continuing the relationship.

3. Don’t try to make excuses for your actions. Excuses tend to water down or negate the apology.

4. Don’t over apologize as it can make the person feel uncomfortable. Be sincere, admit that you were wrong and thank them for bringing the situation to your attention.

5. Then let it go. Taking the bull by the horns and personally apologizing will enable you to sleep better and not allow your unintended rudeness to haunt your memory.

6. Resolve to learn from your mistakes and strive not to repeat them. You may not make the same mistake, but there’s no guarantee you won’t make others. We’re all human and vulnerable. Admitting it can build connection.

Mistakes can be opportunities

I told this story at a recent presentation at the RCIC Residential Construction Industry Conference and one of the construction supervisors shared how he handled a mistake in this manner and not only soothed a customer but made them a customer for life.

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Posted by Joanne Blake – the Canadian business etiquette expert and imperfect person

About the author 

Joanne Blake

Canadian speaker, corporate image consultant & business etiquette expert. If you're interested in booking a presentation, keynote or coaching, contact me. Based in Calgary / Edmonton, Alberta in western Canada.

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  1. What a coincidence, I’m currently reading Richard Branson’s book The Virgin Way! He has shares some great insights into being an inspirational leader no matter what your role in life or work.

  2. Hi Joanne, just read your blog. Glad you were able to resolve your dilemma. It happens to the best of us. I have caught myself so many times unintentionally coming across as being rude. Hey that’s life, with so much going on it is easy to unintentionally brush someone off. What’s important however is once you catch your mistake, apologize.

    Your blog reminded me of some words of wisdom I came across:


  3. Hi J.B.
    Thanks for your comments and the great quote. Wise words to live by! Do you happen to know who they’re attributed to as I’d love to tweet it out.

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