Making a mistake can be one of the most frustrating things that can happen at work. Making a big mistake or making a small mistake repeatedly can be detrimental to your image and career. The frustrating thing about that is that we don’t make mistakes on purpose! So, at first, we might be at a loss for what we could have done differently.
That is a crucial point to remember—regardless of whether you want to prevent mistakes on your part or whether you are coaching someone else.
So if you can’t try harder to not make a mistake, what can you do? Pinpoint the cause of your mistake by asking the three following questions:
If you don’t have the basic skills, knowledge, or competency required to complete the task, mistakes are going to be unavoidable. But if this is truly the issue, it’s a pretty simple one to solve. Freshen up your skills and in the meantime, get help from others who are more skilled or experienced.
Along the same lines, you may not have enough knowledge or information to complete the task. This is more common—we often have to make decisions or take action without knowing the full picture. Still, do your best to obtain the information you need. These days, failing to do enough research beforehand is probably more common than the information not being available.
Do you have the motivation to not make the mistake? That is, do you know the repercussions of making an error and are they severe enough to want to take precaution? This is a fair question to ask. Not all mistakes are fatal. If there are little to no negative consequences to making an error (or you don’t know about them), can you really call it a mistake? If you don’t know, find out; it can provide sufficient incentive.
More than likely, you have the skills, the knowledge, and the motivation to not make the mistake and yet… here you are. In this situation, it is helpful to have a process. Doing things in a systematic and predictable way minimizes errors. It frees up your cognitive resources so you can focus your attention of the part of the task that matters. If the process has more than a couple of steps, also use a checklist.