How To Recover When You've Let Someone Down

I used to be a full time pastor and I worked with a great team of volunteers.  I loved what we were doing together and the way we were investing in others.  I valued each of my team members and so appreciated the tremendous amount of time and energy they offered.


The Mistake

At that time I asked one of my team members if she would write a particular curriculum. It was for a couple of the classes that we facilitated for teenagers and she was more than qualified.  She agreed and the final product she created was impressive. 

The week of the new curriculum launch I had gotten swamped and didn't prepare the leaders in time.  So I postponed the launch one week.  No big deal, right?  Wrong.

As I told the curriculum writer about it that morning in church, the look in her eyes sank my heart.  She felt completely de-valued by my snafu and walked away without saying a word.  I knew it was bad.

Have you ever let someone down like that?  Have you ever made someone feel less valued?  It feels worse than locking your keys in your car, one of my monthly habits.

The good news is that there is a simple and clear way to move forward.  It does take some courage however.  Here are three things you can do to begin repairing that relationship with the potential to make it stronger.


1.  Own Your Mistake

If you know you are at fault, own it immediately.  There is no sense in trying to save face or protect yourself from the negative feelings that are knocking at your door.  In fact, the sooner you acknowledge the incident and own it, the sooner you’ll feel better about moving forward in a healthy manner.  Own it for yourself and own it for the person who feels hurt.  Which brings us to the second step.

2.  Be Direct

Don’t beat around the bush or make excuses.  Go to that person as soon as you have a chance.  If you have a full schedule that day, change your schedule.  Find the time that you need to speak with them.  Face to face is best, but the phone is better than an email or nothing at all.  Tell them that you made a mistake, you do value them, and you are sorry.  It's amazing how few people do this and how much others appreciate the candor and acknowledgement.  Finally…

3.  Learn From Your Experience

We all make mistakes.  No one is an exception.  You aren’t the worst person in the world.  You are human.  But you can learn from this experience.  Ask yourself... What can you different next time?  How can you place cues in your process so that you are sure to value the time and effort of others in similar situations moving forward?

One Final Word

People tell themselves stories in their heads.  Stories like ‘no one ever values me’ or ‘I might as well be invisible’ or even ‘people always take advantage of me’.  You aren’t responsible for their stories.  You are responsible for yours.  Once you’ve done these three things you don’t have to do anything more.  You don’t have to take on added shame that others try to give you.  You’ve put yourself out there with courage and that’s all you can do.  As the saying goes, you can only do what you can do.  

“It takes a great deal of character strength to apologize quickly out of one’s heart rather than out of pity. A person must possess himself and have a deep sense of security in fundamental principles and values in order to genuinely apologize.” – Stephen Covey

“All faults may be forgiven of him who has perfect candor.” – Walt Whitman

“Why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me.” – J.K. Rowling