Mentoring, Semantics and Understanding

When you get into the mechanics of optimizing a mentoring relationship, it involves understanding learning styles, communication, and a whole big messy bunch of “trying to understand another human being who isn’t me”.

A good example is establishing the difference between an error and a mistake. I’ll borrow this from something I saw online: An error does not become a mistake until you refuse to correct it.

When I’m working with people, I expect errors. That’s why we’re working together: I hope that they catch my errors and I catch theirs. As a supervisor, if the same error happens twice I’ll be clear about discussing that when an error happens twice, it becomes a mistake. A mistake can be avoided. When an error happens twice, we discuss how we can avoid it again. This might reside with the employee, or perhaps we change the way the company works or how we support staff. If an error happens three times, then it’s truly a mistake. It’s a similar discussion of how to avoid it, but then it also starts to venture into Human Resources territory. I assess whether there are roadblocks in the way of success that can be solved, or if it is personality-based.

The point of this is that we should have an intentional system in place that absorbs errors and minimizes mistakes. It needs to be an open discussion where people are encouraged to push themselves. Errors can be good when they are a product of learning and pushing oneself. In that light, errors are an indicator of a healthy, learning workplace where people are trying hard.

There’s a current approach to business that is themed “make mistakes faster”. It doesn’t sound as good, but I wish it were “make errors faster”. The idea is that we move ahead and learn from what we do. I’d just emphasize again that errors are good… mistakes not so much.

But… it’s just semantics!!! At the end of the day we just need to find the right words to have a mutual understanding. Let’s just learn from our errors/mistakes/boo-boos/blunders.

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