Ryan Lochte made a mistake of Olympic proportions. In lying and putting his personal spin about his and his teammates’ late night escapades in Rio, he turned a scandal into a farce and, in the eyes of many, ruined his reputation and credibility.
But there is opportunity to be found in the making of mistakes: Learning — and growing — from them.
Lochte may have missed this opportunity, but his blunder offers lessons on how to recover from mistakes in the workplace and maintain respect. Here are the four steps to mending a misstep:
Resist the urge to take immediate action. Do not immediately shoot off an email or go in to the office of your boss or colleague. Take the time to reflect on your action or inaction so that you can really understand what you did, and why you did it — with a clear head, outside the heat of the moment. If you do not understand your mistake, you will not know how to properly address it. Ask yourself, for example, whether your response can wait until the next day and whether it should be done in person.
2. Correct the mistake (early).
Once you fully understand the mistake, correct it as soon as possible. Why? As the Chinese philosopher Confucius said, “If you make a mistake and do not correct it, this is called a mistake.”Do not act like a victim, make excuses or try to place the blame elsewhere (like Lochte did in trying to use Rio’s high crime rate as a cover for his behavior); it will just make an already bad situation worse. If you told a lie, tell the truth. If you posted something regretful on social media, take it down and acknowledge that you have taken it down.
3. Apologize (once).
Apologize for what you have done to the parties involved. Admit the mistake, take ownership and do not portray yourself as a victim or make excuses. This lowers the esteem in which people hold you. Providing a sincere apology helps others know that you understand your mistake.
Make your apology complete and genuine so you do not have to repeat it. Apologize once. Apologizing more than once does not further minimize the harm and can dilute the power of an apology. If you over apologize, it can trivialize the act. When you say “I’m sorry,” you want it to mean something.
When Lochte issued his apology on social media, he offered an incomplete apology by not accepting full responsibility and not apologizing to the people of Brazil. Later and in his interview with NBC’s Matt Lauer, he tried to correct these mistakes but, in doing so, over apologized. In contrast, when fellow Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps was caught using marijuana, he admitted it and that his behavior was “inappropriate” and vowed that he would “work hard” to regain people’s trust.
4. Move on, and remain humble.
Human beings make mistakes, but there is no excuse for not appropriately addressing them. Learn from the mistake, and move on. If not, mistakes can sometimes cripple people. They become scared to act out of fear of making another mistake or fall into a state of perpetual self pity. So focus on future possibilities. Moving on is critical to regaining productivity, confidence and leadership in your life.
Mistakes happen. It is how you deal with mistakes that can either make them worse and destroy your reputation or help you to recapture your integrity. To best advocate for yourself when you have a slip up and to keep your career on course, remember to pause, correct the mistake, apologize and move on.
Avery Blank is a millennial lawyer, strategist, and women’s advocate who helps others to strategically position and advocate for themselves to achieve their individual and organization goals.