Clean Up Your Messes…


You’re human. Can we assume that? If so, you’ll always make mistakes. You can count on that.

You’ll miss deadlines. You’ll disappoint people by not meeting their expectations and failing to live up to your commitments.

If there are people who evolved beyond their ability to display complete integrity at every waking moment, I haven’t yet met one.

Knowing that, it is critical to sustaining great relationships that you possess the ability to clean up your messes as you make them.

Ron, a marketing specialist, missed deadline after deadline. Suddenly, his entire team felt that he had let them down. They began to work around him whenever they could.

Sharon, a loan processor, repeatedly made mistakes in the loan documents she handled. Nobody ever closed a loan without having to spend extra and wasteful time checking her work. Sharon couldn’t figure out why she wasn’t getting promoted or earning bonuses like the others. After all, she had been at the company longer than most of the others.

Tim, a teenager, told his mom that as a contribution to the family, he would weed the flower garden every week during the summer. But more often than not, he skipped a week. Soon, dandelions outnumbered daffodils.

All of these flaws, taken from the viewpoints of Ron, Sharon, and Tim, aren’t very big. Heck, they did many other tasks quite well.

What each of them missed is this: they consistently defied the trust of the people around them. But relationships are built on trust. Without that foundation of trust, there is no basis for a relationship.

What each of them didn’t understand is that they breached the trust each time they didn’t do what they said they would do. And, of course, they never bothered to come back and clean up the mess.

A cleanup has two parts—acknowledge that the results are not OK, and understand that there must be a commitment to take corrective action.

So, when Ron missed a deadline, he owed it to his team to go to them and say, “I blew it. I missed that deadline. There’s no excuse. It shouldn’t have happened. I’m putting a tickler system in place to remind myself earlier in the process so it won’t happen again.”

Sharon should say to her boss, “I can see that I made mistakes in this document, and I know that’s not acceptable. I will put a reminder at my desk to checklist each document before I submit it to make sure each of these is accurate. I want you to be able to trust me.”

Tim can mend his problem with his parents by saying, “I blew it. I know we had a deal, and I didn’t follow through. That’s not okay with me either because I want you to know you can always trust me. I’m going to set a deadline that I will make sure the garden is weeded by each Saturday afternoon. I won’t miss that deadline again.”

People will always make mistakes. But others will forgive us if we simply come clean and show we understand that we did not demonstrate integrity in our actions and that we care enough to fix the situation.

When we don’t, not only do others lose faith in us, we lose faith in ourselves.

In the end, every agreement that isn’t properly followed through ultimately weakens our own self-esteem. Our self-esteem tumbles into a downward spiral which, once begun, leads to more unkept promises and an even lower sense of self-worth.

What you don’t want is to be an “apologetic liar”—someone who says, “I’m sorry” but then repeats the same outcome. The words, “I’m sorry” are often empty and meaningless for many people.  

Alternatively, a short message of “I blew it, and it isn’t okay. Here’s what I’ll do to correct it” is all people need to hear to restore their faith in us and to have us restore faith in ourselves.

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