Article for trainees: when those inevitable mistakes occur, you have more chance of retrieving the situation if you keep a cool head

Rudyard Kipling famously celebrated the ability to keep your head when all around you are losing theirs and blaming you – a situation which I think most trainees will be able to relate to!

One thing is for sure: you will make mistakes in your traineeship and you will have to accept some criticism from time to time. But provided you learn from them and take any such experience forward positively, you will continue moving in the right direction.

It will probably be the first genuine test of your credentials when something goes wrong and you are confronted with a difficult situation and, in some cases, an irate client or colleague. Regardless of whether or not you are actually at fault, these types of scenarios can be very difficult to deal with, and finding the correct balance between an explanation and – more importantly – a solution, is crucial.

Don’t panic…

It is natural for panic to set in and for a few moments a desire to turn the clock back will be the pervading thought. What you do need to do is to remain calm, objective and focus on securing the correct help, which will involve escalating the problem to a line manager or supervising partner.

A word of advice: where at all possible, do not present a colleague or indeed a client with just the mistake or problem and a shrug of the shoulders – always endeavour to bring a solution to the table, in addition.

A transaction I was involved in potentially had to be delayed when the completion documents were incorrectly drafted, but the individual who had erred immediately flagged the issue on becoming aware of it and, resourcefully, suggested a solution, which ultimately involved them hot-footing it the length of the country with the correct documents, to allow completion to take place as planned.

I have also been impressed with the initiative of a trainee who, having failed to comply with a prescribed statutory procedure, had the presence of mind to check as to whether there was scope within the statute for a discretionary dispensation, which, to their palpable relief, there was!

Before it’s too late

Relationships can sour quickly due to mistakes not being handled properly and the common denominator is often a failure to raise the issue at the appropriate time and to be accountable. In these circumstances, it is likely that potentially solvable problems will be exacerbated, as the opportunity to salvage them may diminish with the passage of time.

A failure to confirm categorically that information required in connection with a licensing application had been duly received by the correct recipient caused understandable upset when it transpired that the actual recipient had not in fact passed it on. A trainee had relied on a somewhat equivocal response rather than pursuing the issue until certain it had been dealt with. There is no doubt that a salutary lesson was learned; however, the saga could have been avoided had due care been taken.

Your firm should provide you with a sound support network which will help you to minimise or deal with any mistakes or issues that arise during your traineeship in the appropriate fashion, but there is a considerable onus on you as an individual to take responsibility for your part.

Try not to focus on the negative and instead think about what needs to be done to get things back on track. It really is true that a problem shared is a problem halved, and what’s more, there is a good chance that someone sitting very close to you has been in the very same position not so long ago.

As a trainee, in order to climb the career ladder, you must project a solid professional attitude to colleagues, business connections and clients alike. There is a lot to learn along the way if you want these people to respect and trust you and be prepared to rely on your judgment when making important decisions. The only real mistake is therefore the one from which we learn nothing. 

The Author
Ritchie Whyte is Training Partner with Aberdein Considine & Co. t: 01224 589 700 w:
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