Friday, February 18, 2011

on messing up at work


Generally, I don't mess up at work. I'm not trying to be all full of myself, it's just true.  I'm good at my job.  I generally don't miss things.  But yesterday, I had a big work mess up.  It was horrible.  By the end of the day, after hours of trying to fix it, I felt like I had been wrung out like a dishtowel.  I was getting ready to pack my stuff up and head home, when my phone rang.  I stared at it for a second, then decided that since I was there, I had to answer it.  I got a "please stop by," and when I stopped by, I got two new assignments.  Small assignments, but still assignments.  For those of you keeping track at home, yes, I got 2 new assignments with one day to do them before vacation.  Blech.

A friend of mine stopped by my office today and said, "I saw you in there talking to [the guy who called me].  You looked so SAD."  It's probably true.  I felt like crap, and I don't really handle making mistakes all that well.  After I met with phone call man, I just went home.  I brought all the work with me, with the intention of doing it from home.  I just needed to get out of the office.  But the mistake of yesterday was pretty much all I could handle in one day, so I just gave up and went to bed (after drinking 2 beers and leaving my glasses at a local pub).  This morning I got up, got myself ready for day 2 of mistake fixing, and came to work.  Leaving all my notes and papers that I had brought home on the hall table by the door.  Nice one.

So in trying to do phone call guy's work today, I had to try to remember what we discussed without my notes.  Which means that I looked at the issue for New York, but forgot to look at Delaware as we discussed.  Mistake number two.

For a perfectionist, this adds up to a pretty unbearable work week.  And yet.  I am trying to keep perspective.  It's impossible to do this job without making mistakes.  So here is what I try to do/remember when I make them.

1.  My dad always said if you make a mistake, you should apologize and do what you can to make it right.  Well, I half agree.  Women are generally too apologetic at work.  Half the time we apologize when someone else makes a mistake.  So I have refined this to: If you make a mistake, you should own up to it, and do what you can to make it right.  Taking responsibility makes you look mature, and gives people confidence that you aren't going to make the mistake again.

2.  There is almost nothing you can do that is so bad it can't be fixed.  And you're probably not actually going to be disbarred for it.

3.  In spite of number one, sometimes you should just keep your mouth shut for a minute and see if it's actually a big deal first.  In the heat of the moment, it sometimes seems like it is.  But then it's suddenly not.

4.  Do not blame the person below you.  Do not blame the junior person, do not blame the secretary, do not blame the mailroom.  Unless they tell you a flat out lie or something and you must tell what happened or nothing makes sense, remember that shit flows upstream.  It just makes you look like an asshole to blame it on your secretary.  You're supposed to be supervising him/her.

5.  Keep focused.  This is what I forgot to do this week.  I made a mistake yesterday, it threw me, and caused me to make more mistakes today.  This one is hard, because I get so upset about mistakes.  But they happen, and being able to recover well and keep going is important.
6.  Explain to the person supervising you why they can still trust your work.  The worst thing about finding out someone made a mistake (especially if they missed something) is that it calls into question the quality of all their other work product.  But if they explain to you how the mistake happened, and why the rest of the work is still okay, it makes the mistake seem a lot smaller.  Then it's just a matter of fix it, and move on.

So there you have it.  Now, I'm going to go research Delaware.

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