When my kids were born, the hospital sent home a list of things I was supposed to teach them throughout their life. How to brush their teeth; to look both ways before they cross the street, even if it’s a one-way street; to always wear clean socks and underwear; and to always have a rain plan.
Just kidding. There was no manual: just a short list aimed mostly at crib and car safety.
But I would have liked a checklist with the imperative life lessons that must be instilled by adulthood. Maybe reminders that would pop up on my calendar.
Because every now and then, I run across an adult who seems to have missed out on an important lesson that should have been taught right there alongside “don’t run with scissors.” When this happens, I usually sit my kids down, and we have a couch lesson on adult situations.
“Don’t ever marry someone if you think it might be a bad idea,” I told two pairs of wide-eyes last month. And just this week, we sat down to develop crisis management plans.
“You mean, what do we do if there’s a fire?” my son asked, when I told him we were going to tackle crisis management.
“Well, that’s important,” I said, “but what we’re talking about right now is how to handle yourself when you mess up. Because you will.”
Arguably, childhood is made up largely of messing up. If they’re making mistakes, they’re learning. But so often, they’re learning the consequences that the grownups will now impose.
As grownups, well, we still mess up, but it’s up to us to develop the game plan, consequences and remediation.
I was recently a spectator to a tailspinning customer service crisis of epic proportions. A case of bad work led to poor communication, which morphed into abominable customer service, which finally nose-dived into a flaming explosion of ridiculousness. I kept yelling, “Pull up! Pull up!” but it seemed destined for a face plant.
I worked out a set of points to teach my kids for when they have to handle their own messes.
Be objective: Try to look at the situation from all sides.
Acknowledge your limitations and mistakes: It can be hard, but stepping up to the plate and admitting your errors can be one of the most powerful things you can do. You immediately gain respect — and deserving respect can carry you through even the stickiest of situations. Likewise, refusing to take responsibility for an error that’s obviously yours is just annoying to everyone else.
Say you’re sorry: Once you’ve identified your error, give others the simple courtesy of an apology. Who knows, they might even forgive you, which will make the rest of the situation that much easier. (BUT, think long and hard before apologizing for things that are not your responsibility.)
Be collaborative: Work with the other party, not against them.
Keep your facts straight: Consider keeping a list to refer to.
Don’t try to argue with pseudo-facts, quasi-facts, irrelevant facts, or lies: People can sniff these out from a mile away. You’ll just lose respect.
Don’t make up fine print on the fly: Nobody wants to play games with someone who suddenly makes up new rules to help them win.
Don’t be a jerk: Take your time, count to 10, step back and think, so you don’t say anything you’ll regret.
Be prepared for losses. When you make a mistake, sometimes you end up losing something, and when it’s your mistake, that’s only fair. But if you’ve maintained respect and acted with integrity, you’ve won 100-times over.
We’ve been working through problem solving now, trying out different scenarios. And they’re doing great! I can relax, knowing the have an idea of how to tackle those awful moments we all face:the moments when we’re wrong.
Reach Overland Park mom Emily Parnell at email@example.com. On Twitter: @emilyjparnell.