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'We could learn a lot from Hugh Grant. If you make a mistake, own up quickly'

If you make a mistake in work, it’s important to accept it, take it on the chin and move on.

Eoghan McDermott

HUGH GRANT HAS a new movie out this summer and it got me thinking about how far he’s come, and how some would say he is now part of the Hollywood elite.

Hugh’s well respected, been in high-grossing movies and has a career spanning 30 odd years. Yes, he’s made mistakes but he’s bounced back. And we can learn a lot about handling mistakes from how he’s handled one mistake in particular.

Cast your mind back 21 years to his dalliance with Divine Brown. This in 1995 was shocking, yet Hugh handled it brilliantly. He released a statement the very next day saying sorry and took his punishment (a $1,000 fine and attending an Aids education programme).

He also appeared on Jay Leno where he apologised again and was publically mocked and shamed. While on with Leno he said “you know in life what’s a good thing to do and a bad thing to do. I did a bad thing”. He took it on the chin and moved on.

We all make mistakes  - it’s how we handle them that makes a difference

Now things don’t always go swimmingly at work. Deadlines get missed, a customer isn’t happy, there’s a misunderstanding with a colleague. Our cockups are a little less racy than Hugh’s but how we deal with them shouldn’t differ a whole lot.

Like good customer service, sometimes a mistake handled well can be better than normal solid service. It depends on how you handle it.

If you do make a cock-up the first thing to do is try get out ahead of it. Own up quickly. Don’t wait for your boss to come to you. Figure out what happened and what you’re going to do to fix it. Maria Sharapova attempted this last week, announcing her failed drug test herself, fronting up and trying to stay ahead of the story. (Although, her issue may be too much for most people).

Depending on the magnititude of the error the key, if not the only, question is: will the apology be accepted?

Of course, if we raid the company bank account, no matter how good the apology, is we’ll be packing our bags. (And meeting members of An Garda Siochana shortly afterwards.) However, thankfully, the errors we make are rarely, if ever, so egregious.

Saying ‘I’m sorry’

For an apology to work it needs to be more than “I’m sorry”. The perfect apology has four steps. Call them the four “A”s.

Apology. The “I’m sorry” bit. Straightforward. No ifs, buts or maybes. No conditions, mitigating factors or modifiers. Just “I did it and I’m sorry.”

Acknowledging. This aspect of the apology demands that you elucidate precisely what was wrong with what you did, and acknowledge, also, the damage you directly or indirectly, caused. “I’m sorry for…”

Attending. If apologising in work (or anywhere) the person saying “sorry” must attend to those offended/hurt/. You have to wallow in it. Spend time with the apology. Make the other side know that you register the damage and hurt done to them.

Action. This is where reparation comes in. Payback time. You seek to make amends to everybody you damaged along the way.

The same in work if you mess up. Tell your boss you’re sorry, acknowledge what you did, figure out a way to fix it and a plan to make sure it never happens again. Hugh Grant pretty much gave us the blue-print.

You get your good reputation back through delivery, and from the fact that you clearly learned from your mistake. Doing the job better than you did before.

Eoghan McDermott is a Director of The Communications Clinic and is Head of Training and Careers there. www.communicationsclinic.ie. Follow him on Twitter @EoghanMcDermott.  

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