What To Do When You Find Yourself In A Hole

I love reading and enjoy a variety of subjects and authors. Much of my reading is driven by the need to stay current and expand my knowledge about leadership, human behavior, professional development, and the future of work. They are written by people with big brains, big ideas and include lots of research data. At times, I find the language to be complex and difficult to absorb fully.

This is why I always appreciate it when ideas are communicated in a simple, straightforward way. It makes those important ideas accessible and understandable to everyone. This is why I love a quote I recently came across from Will Rogers.

“When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.”

I’ve encountered several situations, both personally and professionally, where people have done something to put themselves in a hole. I occasionally find myself in a hole. Whether it was a bad decision, something said, or an inappropriate action taken, we all find ourselves in a hole now and again.

So, let’s explore what it looks like – or sounds like – to stop digging.

Like most personal improvement, it starts by looking in the mirror (a.k.a., self-awareness).

Self-awareness. You’ve got first to recognize that you are in a hole. Denial is not helpful. Being honest with yourself and admitting that you are in a hole is a must before looking for a way out of the hole.

Self-talk. This can go two ways. 1) Rationalize your decision/words/behaviors and place blame elsewhere, refusing to take accountability and digging your heels in further. OR 2) Swallow your pride, take ownership for the miss-step and begin to take action to remedy the situation, which often starts with an apology.

Acknowledge and apologize. Hopefully, you choose to take option #2 listed above and admit you made a mistake. Consider how the mistake has impacted others and prepare your apology/apologies. Here’s what makes for a legitimate apology:

  • No finger-pointing or making excuses! Accept the consequences.
  • Take the heat and own it – people are very forgiving when you show some backbone and take accountability.
  • Say you are sorry and what you are sorry for. Make it apparent you understand their pain.
  • Articulate any lessons learned.

  • Commit to making it right by taking corrective action.

Take corrective action and make amends. Offering your commitment to making things right must be followed by action. Provide your assessment of how your mistake has impacted them and what actions you think you can take to put things right, then CONFIRM YOUR ASSESSMENT. Create an open dialogue by asking what else you can do. Once everyone agrees on the needed actions, get crackin’. Part of making amends is to repair the damage to the relationship and regain trust and credibility. That will require vigilant follow-through and sticking to any new commitments you make.

Rebuilding trust takes time and consistency. Do what you say you’ll do. Think through the consequences of decisions, actions, and the words you choose, and remember another famous quote from Will Rogers…

“Never miss a good chance to shut up.”

Martha Duesterhoft is a Partner with PeopleResults. Follow her on Twitter @mduesterhoft or send her your best strategy for digging yourself out of a hole to mduesterhoft@people-results.com.