Having spent years – decades, even – building up professional reputations and honing our expertise, it can be scary how much appears to be at stake each time we launch into a new negotiation, project or work-task. We’re confident and know that we have the chops to execute…but we also know that making a mistake could mean that we risk losing the trust and respect of others. And then it happens. We make that mistake. The world seems to slow down, our vision gets a bit blurry, and our stomachs end up in our throats.

Now what?

You fess up. No sweeping it under the rug. No finding an excuse. No pointing fingers at a scapegoat.

Why? Because as valuable as your reputation of being an expert is, your professional credibility and trustworthiness are even more so. Actually, admitting to having made a mistake will send the message loud and clear that you’re able to put doing the ‘right thing’ ahead of ego…and that can take you far with your negotiation counterparts.

It Happened To Me…

A few years ago, I made a particularly frustrating and embarrassing mistake during a negotiation. In sorting through a pricing spreadsheet, I made a typo in a formula. In and of itself it was a small error and hadn’t skewed the results too much – but the really horrifying part of it was that my spreadsheet had been used as the foundation for work completed by not only my team, but the vendor’s team as well. The volume of work that would have to be re-done as a result of my wee little typo was scary.

I’m not going to lie; there was a temptation to just duck my head under the covers and hope that it would go unnoticed by everyone else. But in the end, the right thing to do was fess up – and here are the 3 things that helped me turn the situation around:

Own It.

After spotting the mistake, and running through the spreadsheet several times over to make sure there weren’t any others, I sent word to my team and the vendor that there had been an error. I explained what it was, what the impact had been, and then made a commitment to resolve it.

Fix It.

Following through on a commitment to set things right after making a mistake is crucial. I updated the formula, verified the results, and got a new working copy out to the teams as quickly as possible (the negotiation couldn’t stop just for me – momentum had to be maintained!).

Don’t let mistakes destroy your credibility – own it, fix it, and pay it forward instead.

Pay It Forward.

Applying the lesson learned from my mistake meant more than just double-checking my other files and making a mental note to avoid the same issue in future spreadsheets. It meant offering to help others on my team the next time they were completing similar work. It meant collaborating with a counterpart on the next-generation of spreadsheets we’d be using to wrap up the negotiations. That’s the great thing about mistakes – the solutions to them benefit more than just your work.

At the end of it, sure, I was still embarrassed about the whole thing, but I knew that I’d done the right thing by owning it, fixing it, and sharing the lesson learned. And that negotiation? It turned out just fine – as did my relationships with my counterpart.


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