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How to handle the shame of a mistake

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in Office Management

It is estimated that the average human being will make 2 million mistakes in life. OK, not really—we have no idea of the actual figure, but that seems close. What to do about the small percentage we make at work and that haunt us days, weeks, even months later?

Writing in Harvard Business Review, Manfred F.R. Kets de Vries points out that at the heart of feeling ashamed is a feeling that we are exposed—either to others or to ourselves. No other feeling is more disturbing or destructive to the self.

He points out three techniques to cope with those awful moments:

1. Bring to light whatever makes you feel shame. If you’re ashamed of a mistake, admit your slip-up and take responsibility. Bringing it out in the open will allow you to heal and move on.

2. Be supportive of yourself. You’d be compassionate and helpful if a co-worker or friend had made the same mistake, so treat yourself the same way.

3. Stop letting negative thoughts spiral through your mind. Instead of blaming yourself or others for your gaffe, frame it as a positive learning experience. If the problem is consistent and serious enough, consider seeking the help of a counselor.

— Adapted from “Don’t Let Shame Become a Self-Destructive Spiral,” Manfred F.R. Kets de Vries, Harvard Business Review.

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