Mistakes happen even to the most experienced hygienist, but it’s how you handle errors that matter. Meghan A. McGuinness, RDH, MA, EdD, a professor and third-semester clinical coordinator in the Dental Hygiene Department at State University of New York Broome Community College in Binghamton offers advice on what to do when you make a mistake at work—or in the clinic.
No matter who you are, you will make mistakes throughout your lifetime. Sometimes mistakes happen despite our best intentions, which is why we call them mistakes. Other times, we may be able to predict the circumstances that result in a mistake happening. No matter what the reason, what is likely remembered and most meaningful is how you handle the situation and adapt to the circumstances after the mistake has been made.
STEPS TO TAKE AFTER MAKING A MISTAKE
First, own the mistake. You may not have the perspective to see all of the variables that influenced the situation that resulted in the mistake, but take ownership of your role in the situation. Depending on the issue, your actions or behaviors may have affected others. By taking ownership, you identify your role in whatever happened so that you can manage the effects. Inform those who may be affected or impacted by your action or behavior. Once all parties are aware of the situation, you can begin to right the mistake.
Ignoring the mistake will make matters worse. If you do not recognize what happened, it leaves room for interpretation of what happened. It also could have irreversible consequences if not managed early on. If possible, try to right wrongdoings to others. Then, you can begin to handle the potential effects of the mistake.
FORGIVE YOURSELF AND MOVE FORWARD
Often, we are our own worst judge and enemy. After the mistake has been made, stop the negative self-talk and stop beating yourself up. You are human. Maintain positive intentions and do the best you can in each moment. This may include forgiving yourself for any shortcomings highlighted by the mistake.
Maya Angelou famously stated “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” Once you have recognized that your behavior or action was a mistake, put a plan in motion to do better moving forward. By planting these seeds of growth, you will not only grow professionally but personally as well. Your mindset will shift as you adopt this solution-focused perspective. Your mistakes will become opportunities for growth and development. Experience is the best teacher. If we use our experience to our advantage, we learn from our mistakes and we experience meaningful and robust growth as the result.
Here is an example of learning from a mistake to support professional growth. Veronica is a dental hygiene student in her first year of studies. She has appointed a patient for next week on Thursday but accidentally told them the appointment will be on Tuesday. When the patient arrived for the appointment on Tuesday, she immediately panicked as her patient was already seated in her chair. Veronica admitted to the instructor that she misspoke and should have scheduled him on Thursday. The patient understood and was happy to return two days later. Veronica admitted her mistake and apologized to the faculty and to the patient. She also learned that due to her busy schedule, she should plan more time to schedule patients so she is not rushed in doing so. From that point on, she carved out more time in her schedule to work on patient scheduling. She also made detailed notes assisting her during the scheduling process. She was sure to follow the notes each time she appointed a patient. She repeated the date and time of the appointment prior to concluding the phone calls she made for scheduling.
Veronica made a mistake. She accepted ownership of the mistake she made with those involved. Most importantly, she made an action plan to improve in this area in order to prevent making the same mistake again. Veronica experienced growth as a professional and benefitted from her improved organization and communication.
Recovering from a mistake can have rewards. Remember to remain open to recognizing your role in the situation when the mistake occurred. By recognizing your role and planning how you can improve, you will begin to reap the rewards of an evolving mindset focused on a solution, improvement, and, ultimately, growth.