Oops! Mistakes That Matter – But How Much?

We all make mistakes, but those of us in communication roles are likely to be more subject to those mistakes being spotted than those in other professions. Usually, the mistakes are embarrassing, but inconsequential. We’re not, typically, dealing with issues of life and death after all.

But sometimes even seemingly small mistakes can have big consequences. Yesterday, Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign received some probably unwanted attention for misspelling America in its new iPhone app – “A Better Amercia.” Oops. Ugh…

Been there, done that. Not that specific word, and not to such a large degree of exposure, but I have definitely made embarrassing mistakes in my communication career — and I can definitely empathize with the staffer(s) that made this one.

Mistakes can be very emotional. Nobody wants to make them. Nobody wants to be a victim of one. But, it’s important to put the mistake in context, I think. Is the mistake of a material nature that is going to have a negative outcome in some measurable way? In this case, will this misspelling result in current Romney supporters shifting their allegiance to another candidate? Will it result in those who are still “on the fence” deciding they can’t possibly support a candidate who could allow such an egregious misspelling to occur? Not likely.

Will it result in a lot of attention and potentially embarrassing buzz. Oh yeah.

Generally, though, when mistakes occur it’s not the mistake itself that matters the most, it’s how we respond to the mistake. In this case, if I were the person who made the mistake I would feel terrible, obviously. But, I would:

  • Claim responsibility for the error, notify those who needed to be notified and take steps to correct it.
  • Consider whether any processes might need to be changed to help minimize/avoid mistakes in the future (recognizing that the odds that I could ever entirely *eliminate* mistakes is very, very small).
  • Consider whether there might be an opportunity to somehow turn the mistake to my advantage in some way.
  • Move on.

A copywriter who reported to me a number of years ago made a fairly significant mistake and handled it, I thought, very well. I shared the story with a reporter a few years ago. Our responses to the errors and missteps we make throughout our careers often impacts our personal or professional brands more than making the mistake in the first place. You will make mistakes. The question is, when you do, how will you handle them?

What’s the biggest mistake you ever made and did you handle it well? Was the “real” outcome as devastating as your initial, imagined outcome? What would you do differently if you made a similar mistake in the future?

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