Bouncing Back from a Major “Oops”
I am going to tell you the story of a colleague that made a serious professional mistake, one that almost cost her a career. Mistakes, errors, flubs, oversights, whatever word you use…. they happen everywhere, even in the dental office. We are imperfect and emotional human beings, and we have to remember that, if and when the time comes to face the music.
In this particular situation, my colleague sent an email to her manager and mistakenly blind copied the client, which was followed by a very unhappy email from that client. She described the next few hours afterwards as if she were in another universe, one that was devoid of all oxygen and living beings. Basically, she felt like her life and career were over.
We talked over the next few days and as she described what happened and the corresponding results, it reminded me of things that happened throughout my career as a dental office manager. Did I make mistakes? No doubt! Did others make mistakes? Of course! I saw some people apologize profusely and saw others shrug it off like it was no big deal (when it really was) and in any case, there is no escaping.
Time will eventually heal all, but in the meantime, here are some things you can do to start the recovery and damage control process:
- Apologize immediately, but only as many times as you need to, then move on to step 2. You can’t pretend it didn’t happen and you can’t ignore it, which is why you have to temporarily hold it close to you, cuddle it, then eventually you can release it back into the wild.
- Acknowledge it happened and don’t try to transfer blame to someone else or a situation (even though that might partly be the case). My colleague didn’t have much of an excuse for typing in the wrong email address, other than the intended one was very similar.
- Come up with your “recovery plan”, put it in writing, and present to the appropriate party if needed. You may need to go into your contact list and mark similar email addresses in a way that ensures you can’t get them mixed up, or you might have to have second set of eyes look at payroll before you send it in, but this is important on the road to recovery for everyone.
- Don’t let it get you down and remember those initial, awful feelings will slowly fade. Some mistakes are understandable, some are career-changing, but keep in mind they have happened to almost everyone.
In relation to my early career as a dental office manager, I can say I tried many times to shift the blame to an insurance company, dental lab and in some cases, another team member. It was my defense mechanism and it was a learned behavior from someone else in the office. Years later I learned to be transparent to patients and admit when the office overlooked something. They appreciated the honesty, but I made sure it wasn’t repeated.
If months have passed and you are still reeling, try to figure out why. Was this mistake so bad that your boss will never regain your trust? Sit down and talk about it, but also know when to walk away. It may take some time so it’s important to give yourself a few weeks to sulk, but assign yourself a deadline after which mourning is no longer allowed. It will remind your brain that you only have a certain time to feel sorry for yourself. In the meantime, remain positive and talk to a trusted friend or family member, someone you do not work with. Talk it out and remember, no one is immune from an “oops”!
Bridget Fay, BBA