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I Made a Mistake. Now what? 4 Tips to Correct the Mistake

Posted on March 28, 2019 at 1:10 PM


Everyone hates being wrong.  Especially at work; when you've been at it for awhile.  We don't consider ourselves amateurs anymore.  We might even consider ourselves pros.  But mistakes happen.  Here's a story about something that happened in a recent consult I had:


I was working with a personal aide in school and she was horrified that she offered the learner she was working with a piece of chocolate while he was engaged in challenging behavior (i.e. calling others stupid, saying, "I hate you" or "You're fired").  Well, here's the backstory: Mom sent in cookies for lunch that the learner did not like.  He was really upset about it.  When others tried to engage him, with all intentions of helping, it escalated the behavior.  The personal aide waited until he was calm (even if it was only a few seconds) and offered him chocolate.  The challenging behavior stopped.  The learner walked to his next class (engaging in appropriate behavior the whole time).  And the aide delivered the chocolate.


Was she all wrong?  No.  She waited until he calmed.  The aide had him engage in appropriate behavior before delivering the reinforcer.  Here's where I think she could use some help.  Instead of offering chocolate, knowing it is highly motivating to the student, she could have stated, "Thanks for standing quietly.  When you have appropriate behavior, then you get chocolate."  The contingency management statement changes it from enticing to expectation.  She could have also used the contingency management statement at precursor behaviors (i.e. throwing the cookies away and saying he wanted something else).


We all make mistakes.  We are all human.  The point is that what we do after is most important.  


What steps can we take to rectify the mistake?  How do we error correct?


1. Apologize and fix it.  Sometimes apologies are warranted and when they are, make them-SINCERELY!  If you can fix it, own it and fix the problem.  If you can't, figure out a way that it won't happen again or how you can do damage control.  And share your plan with the people effected by your mistake.


2. Think about what could happen.  Plan ahead.  You can cut possible mistakes off at the knees if you have a plan for how to address them before they are even an issue.


3. Think on your feet.  If you see a situation not going the way you want, how can you course correct?  Commit to the redirect and do it.


4. If it doesn't work, abandon ship.  Decisions need to be made quickly before issues get even bigger.  If it's not working, cut your losses.  Try plan B...or C...or D.  That's why planning ahead is essential.


Leave a comment below about how one of these 4 Tips could have changed an Oh @#$% moment when you made a mistake.

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